The World Bank’s Dark Migration Lens

The April World Bank Migration and Development report predicts that the “long and pervasive” COVID-19 wave will slash remittances 20% to $450 billion this year, although foreign direct and portfolio investment will fall even more, as the population is stranded and hardest hit by lockdown-related job and income loss. Average money transfer cost remains double the 3% goal and the pandemic highlights lack of health care access and a medical professional shortage that could be addressed with easier cross-border movement. Since the Spanish flu a century ago universal economic standstill is unprecedented, with the IMF forecasting 1-2% developing world GDP decline. Through the “lens” of sectors worst affected including tourism, retail, food and manufacturing low-skilled expatriate workers are at risk of widening the unemployment gap over natives after the difference in Europe was 5% during the 2008 financial crash. They are unable to return home with travel restrictions, as the wealth split grows with industrial countries and internal migration continues at over double the international pace. Containment has increased infection odds as governments round them up for camp and shelter placement, the publication points out. Remittances are historically counter-cyclical, but this time home and host countries suffer alike.  Low income ones have the greatest dependence at 9% of GDP, and this year’s drop is across all regions and “especially sharp” in Europe, Central and South Asia and Africa. At source Russia’s ruble is also down against the dollar, and Persian Gulf oil prices are at record lows. Even with a slight projected rebound in 2021 the sum will lag the level five years ago, as fees are stuck and may spike with disease quarantine service disruption. Providers are typically considered “unessential” and migrants often cannot pass due diligence for digital delivery. Basic healthcare availability is likewise skewed according to a survey of 125 countries where only 80 offer full local citizen scope.

Transfers to the Philippines rose at the same clip to $35 billion in 2019, and may now tumble 20-30% from Saudi Arabia in particular. Manila will allow workers to return to the Gulf and China to fulfill contracts, but they have been suspended and eliminated with drives like “Saudization.” Almost 1000 overseas Filipinos tested positive for Coronavirus, and crackdowns have extended to Singapore following a case spike in that community. In the CIS, Ukraine took in $15 billion from Poland, and the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan got nearly 30% of income from nationals in Russia, often in construction. The Russia-Ukraine corridor is under the 3% expense target, with the lowest from Moscow to Azerbaijan. With airport shutdown Central Asian migrants camped out in terminals for weeks in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. In North Africa Morocco and Tunisia can expect 15-20% dips from Europe, as the Middle East has the largest forced displacement tally from conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. India and Pakistan totals will reduce 20% , and Sub-Sahara Africa faces the same magnitude leading to “further poverty and deprivation,” the analysis notes. Nigeria is the continent’s top recipient with a $25 billion in 2019, but fees from Ghana are the highest globally, and it is also vulnerable to capital outflows with a thin reserve cushion under that lens.

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