The coronavirus pandemic has put an end to the steady increase in the flow of migrants worldwide for a decade, according to OECD data. And with many countries tightening border controls now, migration this year will be “far from normal,” according to Christophe Dumont of the organization.
Migrants are the ones who bear the consequences of this phenomenon, from those who cannot find jobs, to family members kept away from each other, to students forced to postpone their courses and refugees trapped in camps.
There will also be lasting effects for countries that have relied in recent years on a steady influx of newcomers to fill their jobs, support the growth of the workforce, boost the education sector and offset the tax burden on the population. aging, economists say.
For example, in Australia and New Zealand, GDP growth has been fueled by the growing population, largely due to high levels of net immigration.
Other governments do not see declining migration as an immediate problem, given that total unemployment levels are rising in most countries. An exception is in key areas such as health and agriculture; last year some countries imported seasonal workers even during lockdowns.
However, a lasting decline in cross-border mobility could affect countries where migration has offset the fiscal pressures of aging populations, such as Germany.
International migration could recover once the borders reopen, but economists do not expect a return to pre-pandemic levels for a while.
The pandemic experience has led governments to realize the value of low-skilled labor migration in some sectors. At the same time, however, lockdowns have accelerated automation, and technology could erode the demand for such workers, argues Carlos Vargas-Silva, a professor at Oxford University.
Meanwhile, the demand for highly skilled labor migration could fall sharply. Such a long-term change could reduce the working age population, and therefore the tax base, of developed countries, but it could also bring opportunities for skilled workers in the developing world.
Thus, in the future, remote work could make labor shortages in developed countries less likely, while reducing the brain drain from the developing world.
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