A Documentary on Reverse Euro Migration to Former Colonies

This is a very interesting documentary by Aljazeera, which captures the current trend of reverse European migration to former colonies in‪ Africa‬ and South America. Many Spaniards and Portuguese are now moving to Mozambique and Angola in Africa and Brazil, Argentina and Chile in South America to secure jobs and other economic opportunities.

Some highlights of the documentary include:

  • “Lisbon (Portugal) is witnessing an unprecedented trend — EU citizens queuing outside African embassies for work visas” from 2.00 min onwards.
  • About 5 mins into the video, the narrator says “…majority don’t see the themselves as immigrants”.  Then a young Portuguese chap says: “we are not here for our whole lives, only temporary. I am not here to lay down roots. I am only here because I have been forced to emigrate. I would’ve never left Portugal voluntarily. My plan is to go back to Portugal once the situation has improved”
  • Each month, the Portuguese consulate in Mozambique registers over 150 new arrivals.
  • About EUR 2bn are remitted to Portugal each year from Portuguese expats.
  • In Argentina, new laws guarantee immigrants access to healthcare and education, and allow them to stay even if they have no work.

This is certainly fascinating. I can’t help imagining the consequences of this reverse migration in the medium term.

First, will this new and rising inflow cause tensions between citizens and the immigrants in terms of access to economic opportunities? Even though, in many cases, the immigrants are not directly displacing the local population, but are plugging existing skills gap.

Second, what will be the impact of this inflow of (mostly skilled) migrants: skills and technology transfer,  economic growth or greater capital flight?

Third, what about the fortress-Europe approach to immigration, at least in/to the countries in question? If a good number of the young and the skilled are leaving for elsewhere, within the context of an ageing population and a rising dependency ratio soon to rival Sub-Saharan Africa (see projections by the UN here), economic….er…”constraints” (national debt and economic stagnation, to mention two only) and very hostile anti-immigration policies, who will foot the tax bill in these countries in the medium to long-term, if these trends continue? Will these trends affect the hostile anti-immigration debates in Europe?

Four, are other African countries particularly the anglophone and francophone ones positioning themselves to make the most of this momentous opportunity?

We really need to think about some of these questions and more.

Oh Nigeria, please get your act together. *sighs*

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A Knee-Jerk Approach to Managing Immigration in the UK


A Knee-jerk Approach to Managing Immigration in the UK

Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

A proposed scheme by the UK government that would require first-time visitors from certain Asian and African countries to deposit a £3,000 bond to obtain a visitor’s visa to the UK has provoked outrage from these countries, notably Nigeria and India. The pilot scheme to commence in November 2013 would initially cover a select number of “high risk” visitors from countries whose nationales have a higher probability of absconding, and if successful, would be extended over other visa categories. The affected countries feel unfairly targeted and the scheme itself could have profound implications.

Since the announcement by the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, some of the affected countries which include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana have reacted with indignation on the grounds that the proposal is selective. The Nigerian House of Representatives has described the policy as “discriminatory and capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth”. The Confederation of Indian Industry has described the scheme as “highly discriminatory and very unfortunate”.

While tackling illegal immigration and managing legal migration is a key concern for any serious country to ensure adequate access by residents to infrastructure and public services, targeting those who contribute to the economy is not only discriminatory, but is plain disrespectful. This scheme is perceived to be unfairly selective, applying to those countries whose nationales actually contribute to the UK economy, struggling to bounce back in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Over 140,000 Nigerians and 340,000 Indians visit the UK annually contributing significantly to the tourism sector which is Britain’s fifth biggest industry and third largest foreign exchange earner. Nigeria in particular is not only the UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa, but Nigerian shoppers rank among the highest spending tourists in the UK, sometimes outspending their Chinese, Arab and Russian counterparts. Middle-class Nigerians annually flock to the UK, not only for sight-seeing, but mainly to get good bargains especially during the annual summer and winter sales, with the British economy typically witnessing a bump within this period.

This proposed scheme seems to be the latest in the long list of rapidly changing and increasingly hostile immigration policies by the UK. In 2012, the UK closed the Post-Study Work visa which allows non-EU university graduates to work for two years in the UK (and pay taxes). The badly managed brief suspension of London Metropolitan University’s license in 2012, with little thought for the thousands of international students who had already paid thousands of pounds in school fees, and all the wrong signals it sent out to prospective international students, cannot be easily forgotten.

Although David Cameron’s coalition government has insisted that Britain wants to attract the “best and the brightest” to its shores, this seems to be a euphemism for “attracting the richest only”, especially with such steeply expensive conditions for securing a UK visa. There is a growing feeling especially among Commonwealth countries that the familiar bond with the UK is deliberately being severed by such antagonistic policies. One of the reasons why Britain has remained highly competitive as a tourism and shopping destination, despite higher VAT than the USA for instance, and as a higher education hub due to the historical link with former colonies. With this realisation, many have since been looking at more welcoming places to study and with this recent proposal, to spend their hard-earned money.

This proposed visa bond scheme is seen to be in reality, driven by the exigencies of domestic British politics, especially the Conservative Party’s campaign pledge of reducing net migration to the UK “from hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands”. There is a sense that in a bid to stave off the growing threat posed by the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to the Conservative Party’s core electoral base, and unable to limit EU migration because its hands are tied by EU migration policies, the Coalition government has chosen to target non-EU immigrants.

Such anti-immigration policies have been fuelled xenophobic rhetoric based on the mostly inaccurate assumption that African, Asian or other non-EU immigrants claim state benefits either legally or illegally depriving citizens, of these benefits, and jobs. For instance, a recent study by the British Department for Work and Pensions (PDF) reveals that only 6.4% or 371,000 of the 5.5 million people claiming work-related benefits in the UK are immigrants, and out of this 371,000, only 2% or about 7,500 have done so illegally. The number of non-EU immigrants claiming benefits will be much lower if the figures are disaggregated by EU and non-EU migrants. Obviously, it is incredibly difficult for undocumented illegal immigrants from outside the EU, who end up living on the fringes of society, to secure decent jobs, access the National Health Service (NHS) and other state benefits here because all these require detailed registration and identification.

Clearly, this policy ought to be considerably watered down or completely rescinded. Indeed, the backlash from the individual countries to be affected and the potential economic repercussions have prompted Cameron to embark on damage control by insisting that the policy hasn’t been finalised. If the British government does insist on pushing ahead with this Visa bond scheme, then the affected countries, especially, Nigeria, India and Pakistan which are hotspots for journalists and researchers, are well within their rights to diplomatically reciprocate by similarly demanding steep bonds for visiting Britons. A collective response, under the auspices of the Commonwealth for example, might be more effective in pressuring Britain to water down this discriminatory proposal. Either way, it is Britain that stands to lose more in the medium to long term by this knee-jerk approach to managing immigration.


Oslo Terror Attacks: Whither Globalization?

…Cruelty is necessary…you should kill too many, not too few…” are some of Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous recommendations for a European cultural renaissance of sorts that would prevent the “Islamic colonization” of Europe, listed in his manifesto: “The European Declaration of Independence”. In said manifesto, Breivik – the ultra right-wing, white supremacist cum terrorist – detailed the meticulous preparation for his murderous carnage on July 22nd in Norway which left over 70 people- mostly teenagers – dead. Such far-right terrorism, along with the global economic crisis the world is still “recovering” from, is another blow to globalization and its core neo-liberal values and a crude wake-up call for developing countries especially in Africa.

Globalization generally refers to increased interconnectedness of economies, societies, people, culture and ideas across borders and boundaries through communication, transportation, trade and migration. The term came into popular usage in 1970s and 1980s with the breakthrough or revolution in Information, Communications and Transport Technologies (ICT) making the world a “global village”. This was spurred by the general economic boom in the post World War II era, especially in the 1960s, known as the development decade not only in the developed world – North America, Western Europe and Japan – but also in many parts of the developing world, including the newly decolonized African countries, the East Asian Tigers and other places.

At the heart of globalization is the free market approach to economic management, the core of neo-liberal values. This approach forms the basis of the economic model of the industrialized world characterized by limited government intervention in the economy; the liberalization and deregulation of trade, finance and capital and privatization of public enterprises. These, according to the argument, would enable market competition and innovation, would spur economic growth, lead to greater integration of economies around the world and usher in unprecedented prosperity for countries interconnected in the global economy. For instance competition and innovation ushered in the information age with advances in transport and communications technology mobile telephony and the Internet; faster and more efficient means of transportation and breakthroughs in medical and bio-science technology. Most importantly, such economic prosperity is believed to have aided has aided in the universalization of liberal democratic ideas and values as the most prevalent and pervasive system of government. Democracy and representative government are favoured against autocratic governments, dictatorships and military rule.

In the socio-cultural realm, a more diverse world is bound together by common values and respect for fundamental human rights for all and equality, tolerance and respect for all peoples of the world. To an extent we have seen this happening not only in the unprecedented economic growth and development of some developing countries like the East Asian Tigers such as Taiwan and South Korean; the assortment of new communications technology like mobile phones and the Internet; but also the near-global spread and persistence of the values of democracy and representative government. The interface between new means of communication and democratic values is embodied in the ongoing ‘Arab Spring’ where citizens of Middle-Eastern countries, after being subjected to decades of authoritarian rule, are now demanding representative government through mass protests facilitated by Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools, and have succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt.

In my opinion, this is about where the benefits of globalization end as the global financial crisis of 2008 and the global recession it has spawned has plunged many countries of the world into near-bankruptcy. This crisis in many respects can be attributed to the interconnectedness and integration not just between different parts of the world, but between the volatile financial sector and other parts of the economy.  As mentioned earlier, from the near collapse of the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Greek economies and the large financial bailouts negotiated with more European countries possibly in tow; the future of the EU, the monetary zone and even the existence of the Euro is hotly debated. Bigger countries like the UK which are not on the verge of collapse are growing at a snail pace of just 0.25% in the second quarter of 2011. Elsewhere, the US is racked by its growing debt, financed mainly by Chinese investments in US Treasury securities and bonds. The global financial crisis and its aftermath have exposed the fundamental weakness of the core neoliberal values of globalization which have played a large part in bringing about the crisis in the first place.

More importantly, with economies continuing to shrink, politicians have responded accordingly with austerity policies. With the global recession, governments in Europe and other parts of the developed world have been made to cut-back on public spending in such areas as education and healthcare, they have increased taxes and are now increasingly reducing net immigration and inflow of foreigners. In the UK, the Coalition government recently said it would reduce migration to the UK from 200,000 per annum to “tens of thousands” because of increased pressure to the “society, economy and public services”. At the individual, group and societal level are some nationales of European countries who are of the view that it is those “bloody foreigners” who, with their hordes of dependents are not only: out-breeding their hosts, taking up all the jobs and claiming benefits but are also disturbing the delicate demographic balance in Europe. For instance, in Norway, a recent poll conducted showed that half of all Norwegians favour restricting immigration, or that immigration “had gone too far”.

It is from this perspective that there has been a resurgence and growing popularity of not only (moderate) right-wing politics but even extremist, ultra-right and far-right ideas which blame all economic woes on foreigners and immigrants. Thus, far-right movements in places like Italy; Switzerland, and Sweden;  parties like the National Front Party in France and the Dutch Freedom Party headed by the fiercely anti-Muslim Geert Wilders are gaining momentum and sympathy from ordinary people. These parties and movements “blame multiculturalism for the destruction of Western culture”and very much like Breivik, they blame previous left-wing governments such as the UK Labour Party and the Norwegian Labour Party for allowing such multiculturalism by enabling the influx of foreigners.

These parties have capitalized on a growing uncertainty brought about by recession and the economic difficulties people are going through, and have used a convoluted mixture of populism, thinly veiled racism and neo-fascist tendencies to resuscitate a feeling of nationalism or as The Guardian aptly captures the situation, a “nostalgia for a conservative, traditionalist, whites-only Europe of a bygone age combined with blind fury at its dissolution in a globalised world”. Logically and understandably, some of the citizens are transferring and directing their pent-up anger at the “foreigners” or the “immigrants” with whom they are competing for scarce economic opportunities which could explain the growing sympathy for right-wing policies and ideas in the industrialized world. Furthermore, foreigners and immigrants are increasingly equated with non-Europeans particularly with Muslims from the Middle-East and Pakistan and as well as African immigrants.

Most Africans would readily understand this situation, for the struggle for economic resources and opportunities is the bane of most inter-ethnic conflict and crisis in many sub Saharan African countries. From the indigene-settler issue which periodically erupts in Plateau state Nigeria between the Hausa-Fulani “settlers” and the Berom indigenes to inter-ethnic conflict in regions in Kenya like Western, Rift Valley, Nyanza, Coast and Nairobi. Unlike Breivik, it is hoped that few far-right zealots would go so far as to kill innocent teenagers in a bid to protect and maintain the racial purity of Europe from “Islamic colonization” or “Muslim takeover”, but as Nobel Peace Prize chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland rightly noted, extremists like Breivik are exploiting rhetoric used by European politicians to propagate their neo-fascist views. His comment was in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement in February 2011 on the failure of integration and multiculturalism in Britain which he said is “fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism”.

As Europe tightens its borders to non-Europeans, the implication for poor countries particularly African countries is that even brain-drain –a major developmental challenge where skilled Africans emigrate en-masse to developed countries in search of greener pastures – will be greatly reduced for the pasture is not-so-green these days. For instance, some European countries like the UK have revised their   immigration policies such that from 2012, the UK will close its  borders to long-term settlement by foreigners, except for those of “exceptional talent” , the well-to-do who can go afford to go for holidays or give assurances that their stay will not be permanent.  The difficulties faced by poor people from developing countries to migrate, live-in, work or settle-in developed countries questions the unrestricted movement of people and goods across boundaries which globalization proponents had assured. On the one hand, it could be a blessing in disguise, for those who earned their qualifications in developed countries could go back home and utilize those skills in developing their respective economies. Of course this depends on political and economic stability, job opportunities in African countries and most importantly when African leaders decide they are ready to provide desperately needed transformative leadership.

As the industrialized world struggles towards a painful recovery from the global financial crisis further exposing the flaws and weaknesses of the core neoliberalism and free-market system, it shouldn’t be surprising if more aspects of globalization unravel. Therefore, as more jobs are cut, taxes increased and the cost of living becomes higher, people are naturally bound to retreat to a comfort zone and heap blame on the foreigner. As competition for scarce opportunities intensify, extremists like Breivik are lurking, waiting to exploit fear and uncertainty. It is hoped that African leaders will take this cue and provide more opportunities for citizens at home in the wake of a shrinking global space.