Are the Falklands being used to their best advantage?  In a recession, they could be an underutilised paradise with their jobs, white sandy beaches, wildlife, mountain ranges – and lack of people.  Census results released this month show that the islands have a less than 1% unemployment rate, and that the average annual income of $32,213 is much higher than Argentina’s $9,620 as of last year, or that of any of the Falklands’ other Latin American neighbours.

Offshore oil and gas development could also potentially bring much more wealth to the islands. There has always been talk of such development but there doesn’t seem to have ever been a concerted effort on the part of the British or anyone else to do much with it.  The Associated Press reports that the industry currently employs only 26 islanders, and that there simply aren’t enough people around to work the jobs created by a growing economy:

We don’t have a big enough work force to get things done,” said Tim Cotter, an executive at Falklands Islands Development Corp. “In the short term, we could employ seasonal workers from St. Helena and South America, and those who like it, and fit in, will stay. That is the way the population has grown since the beginning.”…

If the Falklands get even a fraction of the $10.5 billion in taxes and royalties some industry analysts have predicted will flow from just one of the offshore oil fields being explored, islanders could become richer than Saudi oil barons.

Could the Falklands be the next Perth where Australians and New Zealanders alike have been able to make big money from the mining industry in a time when recession has otherwise made jobs hard to come by?

The census results show that the population has not grown at all since 2006 and remains at only 2,563 after civilian contractors and British military personnel and their dependents are excluded.  Like many places, the current trend on the island is towards an aging population with the elderly population having increased by almost 14 per cent since the last census in 2006.  Severely restrictive immigration policies currently make it very difficult for newcomers who must survive on short term contracts for seven years before they are permitted to apply for residency. 

The much fought over Falkland Islands face a common demographic challenge.  How to save a dying population without letting too many people in?  Though their situation is unique in that too many Argentinean immigrants who could well swing the voting balance back in favour of giving Argentina control (the British fought to defend their right to control under Margaret Thatcher back in 1982 and still maintain it today).  The census results show that 59% of residents consider their national identity to be ‘Falkland Islander’, 29% consider themselves British, 9.8% St Helenian, and 5.4% Chilean – still a substantial proportion who identify with Britain.   

The Falklands should pump some manpower into their emerging industries, creating more wealth, jobs and lovely unspoiled living space for some lucky families in the world in the process – while saving their own population from dying out.

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...