Migrant Workers Returning: Any Silver Lining for South Asian Economy?
Except for Bhutan Maldives, remittance sent by workers abroad plays an important part in the economies of 5 other countries of South Asia. Most of these workers mainly work in the Middle East and Malaysia. They worked very hard and contributed in the economic development of the countries that they work in. Most of them do menial jobs that the natives are not that eager to do. However, because of the on going economic recession, things look very bleak for all the countries and it is natural that the labor market in the Middle East and in Malaysia is becoming smaller. We already have seen some bad news items in the media in this regard.
In one of my entries, I talked about the South Asian Population. If you have already read it then you should know that the population of South Asia is almost 1.5 billion. Millions of families depend on the money sent by workers to their families. So, the first fear that we may have about the coming back of migrant workers from developed countries is the possibility of social unrest in 2009 in South Asia. The economies of these countries will surely suffer a lot. If migrant workers come back in large number then this can hurt the foreign exchange reserve’s health in some countries like Bangladesh. Unemployment will increase and so will poverty. There is no debate about the adverse impacts of this phenomenon.
I like to turn your attention to a recent news item that Malaysia canceled visas for some 55,000 Bangladeshi jobseekers. In 2008, Bangladesh got almost $9 billion in remittance and it is needless to say that this money has eased the pressure on its foreign exchange reserve. So, it is very bad news for Bangladeshi economy. Now, Bangladesh government is trying very hard to overcome this problem and intense diplomatic effort is going on to resolve the issue. As a Bangladeshi person, I really hope and pray that this problem can be solved soon.
The second news item that you should read is- Kuwait expat workforce in first fall since 1990. Kuwait is one of the richest countries on earth and it has a huge number of immigrant workers. A decrease in demand is not good news for South Asia. So, I am not surprised to see that Nepali Leaving For Foreign Jobs Dropped. You can be sure that there is nothing better for the workers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka than their counterparts of Bangladesh and Nepal. It is just a matter of time that you will see bad news about workers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
So, it is just all bad news all the way at this moment. I am an optimistic person and I always try to see the silver lining behind every cloud. So, I am trying to present some silver linings to the recession.
The first positive thing that may happen is that many workers will come back and they will bring a lot of saving money. I mean that they will bring all their wealth and it can generate a lot of extra money in short term for all these economies. If the governments can handle this extra foreign exchange then it can help them to fight against the recession in a better way.
These workers have been habituated to work extremely hard in very harsh conditions. So, they will bring some valuable experience with them. The workers work in developed countries and they have exposure to developed economies. This is also a valuable experience.
Most of these migrant workers hail from rural areas and after they come back to their own villages, some of them will surely try to start some ventures and this can contribute to the development of some villages. On the other hand, some highly educated people are coming back from Europe and North American countries and this can be a good blessing for some big cities of South Asia. Here, I like to remind you that after the dot com crash and 9/11 terrorist attack, many highly educated and highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs came back to India from USA and it actually helped the country to become the number one player in the field of outsourcing. If the same thing happens again then it will be surely the best silver lining for Pakistan and Bangladesh too as many educated and skilled people from these two countries live in USA and Canada.
To be honest with you, I feel that the return of migrant workers may help to slow down the process of consumerism that has plagued almost all the South Asian countries in the last one decade. Easy money comes from abroad and this destroys the social balance. Capitalism is good, free market is even perhaps better but consumerism is a curse when the money comes without any effort. It is true that the migrant workers work in very harsh conditions but when they send the money back to their families and relatives, this money is rarely spent in a wise manner after productive sectors.
I talked about the possible silver linings but I would like to add one thing that the governments of these countries will really have to try to channel the money and the returning workers to productive sectors. The governments should extend all out support to these workers.
What is your idea about this crisis?