October 2020, Volume 26, Number 4
The European Commission in September 2020 released a draft pact on migration and asylum that was akin to a three-floor house. The EU proposed to use EU aid to keep potential migrants at home, strengthen border and maritime enforcement to prevent unauthorized arrivals, and redistribute asylum seekers who reach EU front line states such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, so-called burden sharing. Countries that accept asylum seekers from front-line states would receive E10,000 for each.
Unlike a 2015 plan to re-allocate asylum seekers from front-line states by country, the new plan allows EU member states to accept asylum seekers or to assume responsibility for deporting foreigners who are not recognized as refugees. However, these countries would have to integrate foreigners who cannot be deported within eight months. The new emphasis on deportation reflects the fact that over half of the foreigners who applied for asylum in recent years are from countries whose citizens are rarely recognized as refugees but are hard to deport.
Asylum seekers from countries where recognition rates are less than 20 percent would have their applications adjudicated quickly, so that they can be removed within 12 weeks. Only a third of the foreigners who are ordered to be deported from EU member states are actually removed, in part because they develop roots in host countries while their countries of origin make returns difficult by not recognizing their citizens and issuing passports.
European countries such as Italy and Spain were Covid-19 hotspots in March-April 2020. They reopened in summer 2020 when Covid-19 appeared to be largely under control, a sharp contrast to daily new record high cases in the US in July 2020. However, the number of Covid cases rose in August-September 2020. Governments blamed tourists returning from Spain, Greece and other tourist destinations and some required returning residents to be tested on arrival and quarantine for two weeks after returning from Covid hotspots.
When the national pandemic plans of European countries proved inadequate in March 2020, many governments planned for worst-case scenarios of modelers such as Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, who projected that hundreds of thousands would die in the UK and millions in the US. Such projections were used to justify tight lockdowns. However, during the second-wave of Covid infections in fall 2020, there were far fewer hospitalizations and deaths, perhaps reflecting more cases among young people or doctors learning how to treat the virus.
EU leaders in July 2020 agreed to a €750 billion ($857 billion) package of loans and grants to member countries hit by Covid-19. The bonds will be sold collectively by the EU rather than by individual countries, and E390 billion will be grants to the hardest-hit countries such as France, Italy and Spain. EU leaders also agreed on a €1.1 trillion budget for the EU for the next seven years.
Some 60 million private sector workers in the EU were put on short-time or similar programs that kept them in jobs and paid them 60 to 85 percent of their usual salaries. As government subsidies ended in Fall 2020, layoffs began in the travel and manufacturing sectors, prompting protests from workers. Temp firm Adecco, which helps firms to find other jobs for displaced workers, predicted that many EU firms would use the Covid pandemic to restructure and automate.
France. Many residents believe there is too much crime, which conservatives such as the National Rally (ex-National Front) link to African immigrants. France permitted family reunification immigration in 1976, which increased immigration from Africa. Security, a code word for crime, is expected to play an important role in forthcoming elections.
Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel on August 31, 2015 announced “wir schaffen das,” or we can integrate the Syrian and other refugees traveling from Greece to Turkey and north through the Balkans. Some 890,000 foreigners applied for asylum in Germany in 2015, adding 1.1 percent to the 82 million Germans.
The status of the 2015 arrivals were assessed after five years in August 2020. BAMF reported that three-fourths of 2015 arrivals felt welcome in Germany and 44 percent spoke good German. About 40 percent of those who arrived in 2015 had a job at the end of 2019, including part-time jobs.
However, only half of the 2015 arrivals have skilled jobs in Germany, even though 80 percent said they held skilled jobs in their home countries. Migrants earn two-thirds as much as similar German natives. Migrants report trouble dealing with the 600 foreigners’ offices that issue work permits and handle deportations.
The 800,000 Syrians are the second largest Muslim group in Germany after Turks. Foreigners who have lived legally in Germany for at least five years, learned German, and are not dependent on welfare can become permanent residents, and many of the Syrians who arrived in 2015 are expected to naturalize.
Germany celebrated 30 years of unification October 3, 2020, emphasizing the narrowing of gaps between the five eastern states and western Germany. Wages are on 15 percent lower in the east, and no publicly traded firms have their headquarters in the east. East-West migration stopped in 2013 after 1.3 million mostly young people moved west, and resistance to immigration is stronger in the east. The right-wing Alternative for Germany party is strongest in the east.
Germans protesting face-masks mandates August 29, 2020 stormed the Reichstag in Berlin, waving the flag of the pre-1918 German empire and unleashing a debate about the stability of democracy in Germany. Some 10 percent of the 40,000 protestors were neo Nazis.
Greece. Migrants have crossed the often narrow waterways that separate Turkey’s western coast from nearby Greek islands for years; in 2015, hundreds of thousands used rubber boats to travel the 10 to 20 miles between Turkey and Greece. In March 2016, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey that allowed Greece to return migrants who arrived illegally via boat back to Turkey.
Greece has returned few of the migrants arriving from Turkey. In February 2020, the Turkish government bussed some of the 3.6 million Syrians in the country to its land border with Greece and encouraged them to try to enter Greece. In summer 2020 Greece began to return migrants who reached Greek islands from Turkey by putting them in rubber boats and leaving them for the Turkish Coast Guard to rescue.
In September 2020, the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, a Greek island near western Turkey, was burned and destroyed by some of the 12,000 residents protesting Covid quarantine restrictions; two-thirds of the Moria migrants are Afghans. Most migrant camps on Greek islands near the Turkish coast are overfull.
France and Germany agreed to accept 400 solo youth from the Moria camp, and Germany later agreed to accept 1,550 migrants displaced by the Moria fire who had been recognized by the Greek government as refugees. Some local residents erected road blocks so that the camp cannot be rebuilt. The Greek government announced that it would not “reward” migrants who burned the Moria camp by moving them to the Greek mainland.
Italy. Some 12,500 migrants arrived in Italy in the first seven months of 2020, including 5,600 in July 2020. About 20 percent of the 2020 migrants were from Bangladesh, but there were also many Tunisians who traveled 70 miles to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Politicians such as Lega leader Matteo Salvini charged that newly arrived migrants spread Covid, unleashing a debate between those who argued that Italy has a moral duty to assist asylum seekers and those who argue that Italy must protect itself from Covid. Over 60,000 foreigners live in Italian shelters, many of which are overcrowded.
A record 180,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2017. An agreement with Libya that involved providing boats to intercept and return migrant boats slowed the migrant exodus in 2018 and 2019. There are fewer NGO rescue boats in 2020, so smugglers are using sturdier boats to transport migrants.
The Lega-Five Star Italian government was replaced by a Socialist-Five Star coalition in 2019. This coalition in June 2020 launched a legalization program that allowed unauthorized foreigners in Italy before March 8, 2020, and employed in agriculture and fishing, to obtain work permits if their employers apply on their behalf and pay E500 in fees. Unauthorized foreigners who were legal before November 1, 2019, and whose residence permits expired, can apply for six-month residence permits if they worked in agriculture in 2019.
Italy has 62 million people, a GDP of $2 trillion, and government debt of $3 trillion.
China. China rebounded from the covid pandemic in summer 2020. Chinese real estate was worth $52 trillion at the end of 2019, up $1.4 trillion over 2018. China’s real estate is worth more than twice as much as Chinese stocks and bonds. By contrast US real estate is worth $27 trillion, while US bonds are worth $43 trillion and US stocks are worth $33 trillion.
Over 95 percent of Chinese urban households owned at least one home in 2019, compared with 65 percent of Americans. Almost 80 percent of the wealth of urban Chinese residents is in real estate, compared to 35 percent in the US.
In 2017, some 65 million of the 310 million housing units in China were empty, largely because many middle class families with one condo bought additional condos to benefit from rising prices. Those investing in more housing believe that the Chinese government cannot allow housing prices to fall because local governments rely on the fees paid by developers to fund local services.
China has been accused of suppressing its Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China. In July 2020, a coalition of 190 NGOs from 36 countries called on garment manufacturers to refuse to buy garments or fabric from Xinjiang because the cotton is harvested and handled by Uighurs under forced labor conditions. The Better Cotton Initiative has stopped certifying any cotton from Xinjiang.
The US government in September 2020 considered a ban on imported garments made from Xinjiang cotton, adding to a July 2020 list of garment firms that allegedly had forced labor in their supply chains.
Japan. There were 1.7 million migrant workers in Japan in October 2019. The government opened doors wider to migrant workers under policies developed under now PM Yoshihide Suga, who took power in September 2020 and continued the political dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power continuously since WWII except for four years.
After borders were closed due to Covid in March 2020, the government allowed foreign workers already in Japan to change employers and remain; they were also eligible for the $940 payouts given to all residents. Some of the migrant workers laid off from factory jobs were allowed to remain in Japan and work for lower wages in elderly care homes.
Philippines. Over two million Filipinos are employed as overseas foreign workers with contracts for employment in other countries or on the world’s ships; their remittances are 10 percent of Filipino GDP. About 10 percent of Filipino migrants abroad were laid off due to Covid and forced to return, and an equal number could not leave for foreign jobs as planned. The cruise industry stopped sailing in March 2020, displacing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who earned $1,000 to $2,000 a month on cruise ships.
Singapore. The city state of 5.7 million is seeking to replace Hong Kong as Asia’s financial center. A quarter of the 1.7 million professionals in Singapore are foreigners, many from India. Some of the majority Chinese population believe that Indian migrants are taking jobs from Singaporeans.
Government policy is to welcome foreign talent to grow the economy and create jobs for Singaporeans. Critics say that Indian and other professionals use work in Singapore as a stepping stone to jobs in Europe or North America.
India. There were 2.5 million residents of Kerala in the Gulf oil exporters before Covid in March 2020. A million are expected to return in 2020, and half were back by September 2020. Remittances to Kerala were $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to fall significantly in 2020, reducing the construction of so-called gulf houses in Kerala that are paid for by remittances.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are using the pandemic to accelerate the nationalization of their workforces by barring foreigners from some occupations. Kuwait wants to reduce foreigners from 70 percent to 30 percent of residents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in April 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus, but closing the economy boomeranged and spread the virus as migrants in cities returned to their villages. One result of Covid was more suicides by indebted farmers and farm workers, at least 10,000 in 2019. Modi in June 2020 allowed farmers to sell some essential commodities to private buyers rather than to agricultural buyers licensed by state governments, which some fear could lead to more exploitation of farmers by middlemen.
The government has offered 100 days of labor at $3.70 a day in 2020 to rural Indians under the MGNREGA program for the past 14 years. Some 60 million people participated in MGNREGA sometime between April and September 2020, and 14 million more people applied for MGNREGA jobs, including laid-off white collar workers who returned to their villages.
ANZ. Australia expected 168,000 immigrants in the year ending June 30, 2020, but received about 36,000, well below the 239,600 for the year ending June 30, 2019. Australia went 28 years without a recession, attracting ever more immigrants and raising the population to 25.5 mllion in 2020. Housing prices are expected to fall as immigration slows.
Australia in 2020 prohibited citizens from leaving for non-essential travel, and limited the return of Australians to prevent the spread of Covid. There were 50,000 to 100,000 Australians abroad in fall 2020 who wanted to return, and the number allowed to return was raised from 4,000 to 6,000 a week in September 2020. Airlines arriving in Australia have over 100,000 seats a week available, but the government allows only 4,000 to 6,000 to be filled, forcing many who wanted to fly economy class to purchase business class seats in order to obtain one of the available seats.
Australia has a Seasonal Worker Programme and New Zealand a Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to bring workers from Pacific Island countries to fill farm jobs. Over 23,000 workers were admitted under both programs in 2018-19. The SWP began in August 2008, and has since 2015 allowed an unlimited number of foreign workers into Australia to fill farm and tourist jobs in rural or regional areas for up to nine months. Labor hire firms or contractors hire many of the SWP workers; the four largest account for half of all SWP hires.
Australia in 2020 entered recession for the first time since 1991 due to Covid lockdowns. The future course of the economy depends in part on whether China will continue to purchase Australia’s crops and rocks, farm commodities and minerals. Other issues include climate change on the world’s driest inhabited continent and high levels of consumer debt.