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Transatlantic Council on Migration Report Examines Effects of COVID-19 on Societies, Economies and Migration & Offers Reflections for a Post-Pandemic World
Press Release
Friday, November 13, 2020

Transatlantic Council on Migration Report Examines Effects of COVID-19 on Societies, Economies and Migration & Offers Reflections for a Post-Pandemic World

WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 pandemic and the responses to it have left an indelible mark on families, communities and societies around the world. As infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to mount, governments are trying to come to terms with the massive consequences of the health crisis on their economies, labor markets and, unavoidably, global mobility and migration systems.

In the latter two realms, the effects have been predictably deep. Human mobility stood still in the early months of the outbreak and international migration is expected to drop by almost 50 percent this year. Avenues to humanitarian protection, and particularly “territorial asylum,” have been narrowed severely, and predictably, refugee resettlement was frozen for months. Borders continue to be closed to all but “essential” traffic in about one-third of the world’s countries. Those that have been gradually opening their borders have been experimenting with a variety of pre- and post-travel requirements, new inspections infrastructure and other policies—most notably, focusing on who will be allowed to travel and from which countries, in part by examining national or regional infection curves and other health indicators.

In a new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, MPI President emeritus and Distinguished Transatlantic Fellow Demetrios G. Papademetriou sketches the devastating toll of the virus across families, economies, labor markets and migration systems. He raises questions and offers reflections about the next wave of policies needed to address a sharply different landscape.

Among the hardest questions: how can governments mitigate the risk for those most susceptible to the virus, including the most socio-economically vulnerable populations, which typically include minorities and many immigrants? How can greater political and social solidarity and trust be restored in highly polarized times in which immigration is often a flashpoint? And will the pandemic serve as an opportunity for countries to rethink long-held components of their immigration systems, including the number and types of immigrants and foreign workers admitted and the strategies for helping both newcomers and earlier arrived immigrants integrate into the communities in which they settle?

With governments now trying to manage a sharp resurgence of COVID-19 by instituting somewhat more geographically and sectorally targeted lockdowns, and with winter fast approaching, it remains to be seen how countries will make the difficult decisions about when and how to gradually re-open. They must strike a delicate balance in managing ongoing health risks while also carefully re-opening economies to prevent further economic damage, Papademetriou writes in Managing the Pandemic and Its Aftermath: Economies, Jobs, and International Migration in the Age of COVID-19.

Drawing on recent economic and other data and research, the report details how the responses to the pandemic have had a dramatic effect on labor markets and will lead to long-term structural unemployment and deep economic scarring for large numbers of workers and economic uncertainty—and even privation—for their families. Confronting these challenges will require policymakers and many employers to revisit pre-pandemic assumptions about how many economic immigrants and temporary foreign workers they need.

Papademetriou offers a range of reflections for policymakers as they seek to shape the recovery in the age of COVID-19. Among them:

  • In re-opening migration systems, some categories of migrants, in particular “essential” workers in sectors including health care, tech (in particular artificial intelligence and related sciences) and agriculture, as well as those who fill identifiable and hard-to-fill job and skills gaps, will become even more important. But immigrant-receiving countries should also invest in “cleaning up” certain components of their systems by dedicating additional resources to clearing asylum claim backlogs and turning their attention to logjams in their temporary worker programs.
  • Even as the pandemic offers a moment for advanced economies to examine constant demands by various industries for ever more foreign workers, placing additional though carefully considered requirements for new admissions, and with imaginative and deep government incentives, could prompt employers to train and hire domestic workers—native and immigrant alike. In the process, this will begin the long road to helping families and communities left behind by the unfettered globalization and openness of the last several decades. “A word of caution is nonetheless important in this regard: the effort proposed in this reflection piece must be very well calibrated so that deeper investments in technology and robotics do not thus turn artificial intelligence into the job predator many have been worrying about,” Papademetriou says.
  • Ensuring recovery from the twin public health and economic crises will require all hands on deck, and leaving any segment of native- and foreign-born residents alike on the sidelines represents “an unforgivable waste of human capital that no country can afford.”

“Crises, and especially life-altering ones, present both challenges and opportunities. COVID-19 is no exception,” Papademetriou writes. “But crises also fuel innovation and can create ‘new facts on the ground’ that, managed responsibly and smartly, can seed positive change and lead to new opportunities.”

A skeletal draft of this report was prepared for a virtual convening of MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration in May, entitled “International Mobility and Migration in the Age of COVID-19 and Future Pandemics.”

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/managing-pandemic-aftermath-economies-jobs-international-migration.

And for more on the Transatlantic Council, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/transatlantic.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.