“Migration Policy Increasingly Important” Regional Director Tells European Migration Network
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Migration policy is expected to become an increasingly important economic – as well as social – issue for the Eastern European and Eastern EU countries. That was the core message given to a distinguished audience of academia, politicians, diplomats and scientists at the sixth European Migration Network Educational Seminar of Migration in Bratislava, Slovakia yesterday, by IOM’s Regional Director for South Eastern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Argentina Szabados.
Ms Szabados keynote speech addressed the subject of “Increasing trends of labour migration from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe into Central Europe – roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, countries of destination and the private sector”. She began by noting that Eastern EU countries have transitioned from primarily countries of emigration, to become countries of immigration. “As is the case globally, the primary drivers of migration in the region are economic. People seek better opportunities and better salaries, particularly for lower-skilled and seasonal work.”
Given an ageing population and declining labour supply, governments in the region will rely more heavily on immigration in the future to meet labour market needs. People will migrate for longer period, predicted Ms Szabados, and a wider variety of lifestyle factors will come into play in terms of governance, educational opportunities for family, social networks and community.
Poland, the Baltic states, Czech republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania are all increasingly opening up to increase either temporary or permanent migration to meet labour market needs. Given geographic proximity, as well as historical, cultural, and linguistic ties, much of this migration has tended to come from the Eastern Neighbourhood. Ukraine, primarily, but also Moldova, Belarus, Georgia and the Western Balkans have been key countries of origin to Eastern EU countries.
Ms Szabados challenged governments to ensure sure they have policies and programmes in place to attract both highly-skilled and lower-skilled migrants.
As more people leave their communities for better paying jobs abroad, countries of origin can themselves face labour market shortages. This is particularly the case for higher skilled occupations as workers in those occupations tend to be more mobile. In certain occupations and communities in Ukraine, we are already beginning to see significant labour market shortages due to the large exodus over the past three years, she posited.
Labour migration does not just have an impact on migrants and their families, and communities of destination but can also have significant impacts on communities of origin as well – particularly when emigration takes place on a large scale. This can result in higher dependency ratios as those who remain are, on average, older, with a higher proportion of retired persons. This can place a double burden on the government as a lower tax-base limits resources while the state must provide increased services for the remaining population.
Migration can divide families with either the mother or father (or both parents) emigrating and leaving family members behind. This can result in social change for families and for the community at large as those that remain take on new roles and responsibilities.
With increasing levels of labour emigration, communities of origin will become increasingly dependent on remittances to sustain economic activity and growth. In addition to creating distortions within the economy, this can leave countries vulnerable to external economic and political shocks that may disrupt remittance flows.
Switching to the local level, where the real impacts of migration are felt Ms Szabados underscored the “critical” role of local government in supporting the successful integration of immigrants and addressing socio-economic challenges that may arise.
“The arrival of immigrants into a community can cause unease, fear and distrust among some members of the local population”, she said. “This is particularly true in communities that are not used to immigration flows and in cases where immigration flows have increased quite suddenly. Programmes to counter xenophobia and promote social cohesion, and activities that bring members of host and immigrant communities together are absolutely essential to address tensions that may result from immigration.”