Many countries rely on migrant workers to sustain their workforces, in part due to falling fertility across the globe.  Migrant workers often rely on their incomes to support families back home.  However, for now at least, Covid 19 has significantly affected migration and migrant jobs.

Global remittances are projected to decline by about 20 percent in 2020.  According to World Bank Group President David Malpass:

Remittances are a vital source of income for developing countries. The ongoing economic recession caused by COVID-19 is taking a severe toll on the ability to send money home and makes it all the more vital that we shorten the time to recovery for advanced economies.  Remittances help families afford food, healthcare, and basic needs.”

Gary Rynhart, a senior official at the United Nations labour agency, also highlights some concerning trends:

Job losses have often hit migrant workers hardest, because they are more likely to work in informal jobs which can lack safety nets, in case of job loss or illness. This is particularly the case for migrants in developing countries, and temporary migrants, such as seasonal workers, where social protection tends, at best, to be limited to work injury compensation or health benefits.

Over thirty countries in the world get more than 10 per cent of their GDP from remittances. This money sent home by around one billion workers overseas or internally to their families is collectively higher than either foreign direct investment or official development assistance. It was almost three-quarters of a billion dollars last year.”

Rynhard also surmises that the effects of the pandemic may lead to companies turning to technology over human labour, meaning a reduction in migrant jobs in the long-term. 

In a recent survey by accounting firm EY, around half of the company bosses surveyed across 45 countries said they are looking to automate their businesses in order to better prepare for future business disruptions.  For instance, it is estimated that up to 90 per cent of call-centre jobs outsourced to the Philippines (equating to one million jobs) are under high threat from automation, which accounts for around seven per cent of the country’s GDP.

In addition to the threat of job losses, the Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the poor conditions that many migrant workers live in.  Low-skilled labour migrants in crowded dormitories have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

For example, over 95 per cent of the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Singapore by 19 June 2020 were migrants.  Thankfully, at least the pandemic has meant that many dormitories have now been improved to allow for better social distancing. 

Many migrant workers are very grateful for their jobs. However, enforced quarantines in crowded dormitory rooms have been tough. One migrant worker in Singapore who spoke to the BBC, didn’t know when he would be released from quarantine in his small dormitory room, but hoped to go back to work as soon as possible. He is from Bangladesh and works as a project co-ordinator in construction:

“Many of us have spent a long time here. For me, I have been here 17 years – it’s like we are already part of Singapore,” he said.

“We are not asking to be treated like a citizen. Just treat us like you would treat a human being – like we are a part of society. If it could be like that, that would be very nice.”

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...