Do economic migrants reduce poverty in low-income countries?
Article by Ha Phuong Ngo
In the middle of globalisation, the trend of migrating to developed counties is becoming more active. There are several purposes for moving, for education, war refugees, and for economic purpose. Especially, migrant labour is the people from developing countries who migrate to rich, developed countries with the hope to earn more money than in their origin country. These migrants are not only contributing to the growth of their destination countries but also enriching the origin country with their income. Besides the effect of increasing income to benefit their family, the labour export brings several positive effects to the origin society. For example, benefits the whole society by remittance investment. However, labour migration cannot seem like a perfect way to solve poverty completely as there are considerations that it may expand the inequality among the workers.
Expansion of inequality
The first concept we need to consider in terms of inequality is the ‘positively selected’ migrant (Platt, 2019). This is the idea that migrant member is already selected in the origin countries. According to Haas et al. (2020), the members who are wealthier and healthier tend to migrate to countries in far distance as it cost more time and money. In view of that, BBC News (2021) reported the sad news that 39 Vietnamese migrants were killed because of the poor conditions in a lorry trailer on the way to immigrate to England. As we can see from this case, migrant long distance is a luxury thing for poor people, thus they must expend a lot of effort and do a huge gamble. Therefore, the poorest people tend to make the decision to migrate internal, while the upper and elite class people have more opportunities to move to the high-income country. Thus, the selection of migration may lead to ‘reinforce socioeconomic inequality in origin communities’ (Jones 1998a, cited in Haas et al. 2020: 342).
The statistic from Platt (2019) also shows that the higher income migrant is tended to be higher educated, while the migrant who belongs to the low-income class tend to receive education from only primary school and few of them are in tertiary education. We can guess from these differences that people in the high-income class will have more chances to work in high-skill & high-wage jobs, while low-income migrants will only work in the low-skill & low-paid jobs. This inequality will lead to other problems in the destination country.
Other problems are poverty and social exclusion in the destination country. People moving from a low-income country to a high-income country will expect better working conditions. Though, except for the top high-skill workers, the migrant who is not well educated and seeking low-skill jobs will face a harsh reality.
One of them is the high unemployment rate. In fact, the statistics from Office for National Statistics (2020) show that in 2019, the unemployment rate of non-EU (or non-UK) labour was 5.53%, which is nearly 2 times higher than 3.62% of the unemployment rate of UK-born and EU born labour. This data proves that non-EU labour forces are difficult to have equal opportunities to work as the UK or EU-born members. Therefore, this will lead to the problem that migrant labour who cannot find jobs will fall into poorer conditions.
In addition, we cannot ignore the influence of social exclusion on migrant workers. The statistic from The Migration Observatory (2022) shows that unemployed migrants were less likely to claim social support (27%) than UK unemployed workers (36%). The statics from Eurostat (2021) also show that in 2019, only 20% of national citizens faced social exclusion while 45% of non-EU citizens are. This can be caused by the problem of language skills, especially when the worker came from a country where English is not the first language. It can also be because of a lack of ability to search for social support due to enough education. Thus, migrant workers who cannot claim social help will face a higher risk to fall into the worst condition. People who move from a low-income country with an aim to earn more money, however, the reality they are dealing with is the high unemployment rate and social exclusion.
It is clear from all evidence that labour migrants cannot be the best way to solve poverty in the developing country but may expand the inequality and push the low-skill migrant workers into a difficult situation. It can be said that the intervention of the government from both sides of the origin country and destination country to support migrants is necessary to improve the situation.
BBC News (2021) ‘Essex lorry deaths: Men jailed for killing 39 migrants lose appeal bid’, 23 November. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-essex-59394864 (Accessed: 15 March 2022).
Eurostat (2021) Migrant integration statistics – at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Migrant_integration_statistics_-_at_risk_of_poverty_and_social_exclusion (Accessed: 12 March 2022).
Haas, H. de, Castles, S. and Miller, M.J. (2020) The age of migration: international population movements in the modern world.
Office for National Statistics (2020) UK and non-UK people in the labour market – Office for National Statistics. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/ukandnonukpeopleinthelabourmarket/february2020 (Accessed: 14 March 2022).
Platt, L. (2019) Migration and inequality. Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/inequality/migration-and-inequality/ (Accessed: 12 March 2022).
The migration observatory (2022) Migrants in the UK Labour Market: An Overview, Migration Observatory. Available at: https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/migrants-in-the-uk-labour-market-an-overview/ (Accessed: 12 March 2022).