- Roughly one third of the population lives abroad
- Some 10 to 15 percent on the national income comes from remittances
- It’s leading regional polls on emigration by highly educated people
Apart from these figures, what struck me is the complexity of the phenomenon that has an impact on many countries, concerns literally millions of Albanians with many different interests, and touches on the mandate of almost any ministry.
Academia and the private sector are struggling to come to terms with migration and the European Union (EU) is concerned about the high level of irregular migrants giving rise to large numbers of readmission cases per year (53,000 in 2010 and 15,000 in 2011 – See European Commission progress reports).
People are leaving in droves – how do we get the genie back in the bottle?
Migrants are not leaving for no reason. They believe that their opportunities outside the country are better than if they stay.
Some leave to pursue education opportunities, others to find a job, others to flee uncomfortable situations at home. The OECD’s Connecting with emigrants study forecasts the international competition for labour to continue – if not grow, especially for those with a high education.
Many countries have tried to stem emigration by either imposing restrictions or by reducing the ‘push-factors’ making life at home a bit more bearable. Like Albania with its Brain Gain project, others try to lure back migrants with all kinds of incentives like salary supplements, giving tax-free import arrangements, easy recognition of foreign degrees or mediating jobs. (See: Jobs for young Albanians)
Why empty Ali Baba’s cave?
The question is: Do you really want to get all these migrants back – when unemployment is already high, and when local opportunities are not that great?
Are migrants not of greater value when they stay in their host countries – with their possible contributions while out there, with their networks in their host countries?
Owen Barder and Michael Clemens discuss some related issues having to do with development and migration in a recent interview (highly recommended!).
Migrants generally keep some kind of link with their country of origin and they do so for hundreds of reasons. Some want to participate in debates, some want to contribute funds (and not only to the family), some want to do business, and some want to engage in academic research.
And yes, some may want to come back, maybe permanently, maybe temporarily, maybe ‘virtually’, some for work, some for holidays, some to get married.
If you start thinking about the options, it almost looks like the cave of Ali Baba: full of treasures.
The challenge is not the lack of opportunities. The challenge is how to engage migrants with development in their country of origin.
Approaching migrants with only one proposition (returning permanently) is highly unlikely to be successful.
Migrants, like everyone, have multiple interests. One migrant may at the same time be interested to support an NGO, to give a lecture at the university (for free), to engage a local university in her research network and to help her brother set up a small export business for cheese.
It is in the complexity and multitude of these interests where the added value lies in providing engagement options to migrants.
Instead of looking at migration only from a losing perspective (the brain drain), let’s look at it as an opportunity. Let’s leave the genie out of the bottle and explore the contents of Ali’s cave.