April 2021, Volume 27, Number 2
Most EU countries restricted the entry of foreigners in spring 2021 to slow the spread of mutating Covid viruses, dealing another blow to the Schengen agreement of 1985 that led to easy travel between 27 European countries. Free movement was first threatened by terrorism and again in 2015 when a wave of Syrian and other migrants arrived.
The Covid restrictions are more far reaching. Germany required entrants from parts of the Czech Republic and Austria to present negative test results, and France did the same for cross-border commuters from Germany.
After the Covid pandemic is over, the EU would like to make it more difficult for member states to reintroduce border controls. However, with control of borders a key element of national sovereignty, national governments are reluctant to cede more power to Brussels.
Discussions of vaccine passports that would allow those who have been vaccinated to travel and attend public performances intensified in spring 2021, with southern European countries more dependent on tourism pushing for vaccine badges or passports that permit freer travel.
The EU negotiated as a block for vaccines, and made its major contract with AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish firm that promised low prices for vaccines that could be stored with normal refrigeration. The AstraZeneca contract was troubled because too few doses were delivered, a March 2021 pause in administering AstraZeneca vaccines due to fears of blood clots, and suspicions that AstraZeneca was sending vaccines made in EU countries outside the EU.
Israel, the UK and the US stand out for quickly vaccinating most adults. The EU lags behind for many reasons, including fewer doses than planned and skepticism about vaccines generally and the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular.
Unlike many US cities, many European cities include higher income residents in downtown areas that support vibrant nightlife. Covid kept people inside their small apartments. Some urban residents who also had country homes moved to them and worked remotely, raising questions about whether the spending that supported downtown businesses will return.
Some 10 to 20 percent of the residents of Berlin, Madrid, Milan and Paris have left at least temporarily. Many European cities are trying to encourage remote workers to return by opening more bike lanes and turning some closed parking lots into small parks.
EU countries increased government debt levels to aid businesses during the pandemic to levels not seen since WWII. Inflation has remained low, making it easier for governments to take on debt. The danger is that inflation could increase amidst slow growth, which would make it much harder for governments to repay their debts.
Britain. Four smugglers were sentenced to 13 to 27 years in prison in January 2021 for their roles in the death of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the back of a container truck shipped to England in October 2019. The migrants had paid about $17,000 each for the journey.
Workers employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing earned an average L429 a week in 2020, compared with L687 a week in construction. Despite complaints of labor shortages, farm wages did not rise significantly in 2020.
The 10-member Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities released a report in March 2021 that called the UK ?a model for other white-majority countries? in dealing with racial equality. Low-income and ethnic minority children such as South Asians and Black Africans outperform working-class white children on school examinations, suggesting that class rather than race was a major obstacle to upward mobility.
France. French President Emmanuel Macron in 2020 warned that US ideas on race, gender, post-colonialism threaten French identity and unity. Older professors at French universities are protesting so-called cancel culture that involves activists who disrupt talks by those who have views with which they disagree.
France defines its national identity on the basis of a common culture that embraces equality and liberty and rejects diversity and multiculturalism. The government does not collect data by race and ethnicity because it says that all French citizens are treated equally; protestors counter that the lack of racial data helps to hide racial disparities. Conservative professors and politicians say that racial studies express a hatred of the accomplishments of European civilization; Macron?s embrace of what he calls French universalism aims to draw support from conservatives.
The French principle of secularism or la?cit? creates a firewall between church and state. Under a 1905 law, the government owns all religious buildings then in existence and maintains them for religious services, effectively becoming the landlord of Roman Catholic churches. This means that taxpayers subsidize the shrinking Catholic religion via their local governments that maintain pre-1905 religious buildings but do not provide resources for the six million Muslims, whose 2,500 mosques receive very little taxpayer money.
There are 45,000 Catholic buildings in France, including 40,000 owned and maintained by the government, for 3.2 million practicing French Catholics.
French Catholics acknowledge that the inheritance effect of the 1905 law privileges them. However, Muslims who ask for money for mosque construction from foreign governments are often blocked by French laws that aim to develop an ?Islam of France? that is not tainted by radical ideologies.
The separation of church and state is joined by another issue, the place of minorities in universities. France?s student union Unef allows women- and minority-only for safe-space meetings to discuss discrimination, a practice condemned by those who say that all French are equal. Unef receives $540,000 a year in government subsidies, prompting the Macron government to sponsor a law in April 2021 that would end Unef-sponsored minority-only meetings.
Macron, who has concentrated political power in the presidency, aims to win a second five-year term in 2022, citing changes to labor laws the reduced unemployment and attracted foreign investment before the Covid pandemic. Macron was unable to modify the pension system as planned to require more years of work for more benefits.
A law enacted in January 2021 protects ?the sensory heritage of the countryside,? such as roosters crowing and the smell of manure. The government said that ?life in the countryside means accepting some nuisances,? so the law limits suits by those who build or buy homes in rural areas and sue their neighbors.
Germany. A 25-member expert commission released a 500-page report in January 2021 that recognizes Germany as second only to the US in the number of migrants, 16 million in 2020 when the US had 51 million migrants. The UN considers the six million Puerto Ricans who moved to the mainland to be international migrants.
The commission highlighted the importance of employment for migrant integration, and the struggles of low-skilled immigrants who are less likely to be employed and to earn less than native-born workers. The reasons why low-skilled migrants have difficulty finding jobs range from lack of German to low levels of education and training and discrimination against non-Germans.
The report emphasizes that migration can generate win-win outcomes if migrants are integrated successfully into employment. Getting foreigners into jobs quickly, as in the US, can increase inequality because the migrants are able to obtain only low-wage jobs. However, investing in foreigners by providing them with education and training to make migrants more attractive to employers may lead to a taxpayer backlash.
US immigration history often imagines parents sacrificing for their children. This means that the immigrant generation with little education and English remains on the lower rungs of the job ladder, but their children educated in the US have the same opportunities as the children of US-born parents. Germany and other EU countries often aim to ensure that the arrival generation has the same opportunities as natives, which may require large up-front investments in language and skills training.
Germans expressed frustration with persisting lockdowns and closed schools in spring 2021. With new infections remaining high during the third wave of infections, the government proposed a five-day lockdown over the Easter holiday, which was quickly reversed when people and businesses complained. Many Germans complained that the government allowed holiday travel to Mallorca but not to holiday destinations within Germany.
Germany and many other EU countries have more vaccines from AstraZeneca than from Pfizer-BioNTech. Many Germans want the Pfizer shot, and in March 2021 some AstraZeneca vaccine was not administered as people waited for the Pfizer vaccine.
Hungary. The government refused to recognize a December 2020 ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union that found the practice of ?pushing back? asylum seekers who arrived from Serbia unlawful. In response, the EU border agency Frontex pulled out of Hungary in January 2021.
Hungary has since 2016 pushed back some 50,000 asylum applicants to Serbia, which it considers safe for foreigners to apply for asylum.
Italy. Some migrants who reached Italy were returned to Slovenia to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and then returned via Croatia to Bosnia. Over 1,000 migrants were returned by Italy in this way to Bosnia in 2020.
The government fell in January 2021 amidst disputes over how to spend E200 ($243) billion in EU aid. The popularity of PM Giuseppe Conte rose during the Covid pandemic toward 60 percent, even as Italy?s debt rose to 160 percent of GDP and the economy shrank by almost 10 percent in 2020. New PM Mario Draghi, who headed the European Central Bank, was entrusted to spend EU Covid relief monies.
Portugal. Center-right President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was re-elected to a five-year term in January 2021, but the anti-migrant Chega! (enough) party led by Andr? Ventura won an eighth of the vote, the same share as the Socialist candidate. Ventura attacked migrants and elites, and may be able to turn his populism into a threat to the government of Socialist Prime Minister Ant?nio Costa.
China. The government in February 2021 discouraged migrants from returning to their home villages during Lunar New Year celebrations or Spring Festival to avoid spreading Covid; the government also discouraged travel in February 2020 with lockdowns. Some 300 million internal migrants typically travel during Lunar New Year celebrations that feature festive banquets and fireworks.
China?s labor force is expected to have shrunk when census results are released in April 2021; retirees outnumbered new labor force entrants in 2020. A declining number of births, about 10 million in 2020, is expected to slow economic growth. The one-child policy was abolished in 2016, but the jump to almost 18 million births that year was short lived, and most demographers expect births to continue to decline.
President Xi Jinping in March 2021 asserted that ?the East is rising and the West is declining,? and warned that the US was China?s major threat. Xi is expected to win a third term as president in 2022.
Korea. The treatment of 20,000 Asian guest workers on Korean farms became an issue in spring 2021 after a 31-year old Cambodian woman died. The Employment Permit System allows farms to employ Southeast Asians for 70 or more hours a week and wages of $1,500 a month. Many work in green and tunnel houses, and guest workers are often housed in shipping containers.
The Labor Standards Act that sets maximum hours does not apply to workplaces with fewer than five employees, which means that many farms are exempt. Farm employers say that they are struggling to survive, and cannot pay more or improve conditions.
Over 80 percent of the 200,000 EPS migrant workers in Korea are employed in factories. Others are employed in construction, fisheries and services. About 100 EPS workers a year die in South Korea.
Korea has the world?s lowest fertility rate, an average 0.8 children per woman in 2020.
India. The BJP government of PM Narendra Modi in September 2020 enacted laws that ended a farm marketing system that required farmers in some states to sell commodities to wholesalers in markets or mandis that offered minimum support prices. The goal was to attract new buyers of farm commodities and to raise the prices paid to farmers while increasing investment in agriculture.
About 60 percent of Indians depend on agriculture for most of their income, even though agriculture generates only 15 percent of India?s GDP.
Farmers protested the new law and blocked the four major entrances to New Delhi in December 2020 and January 2021. India?s Supreme Court in January 2021 blocked implementation of the new law and appointed a committee of experts to negotiate a compromise that would protect farmers while fulfilling the government?s goal of encouraging competition among buyers and more private investment in farming.
Farmers were not satisfied, and took over the Mughal residence Red Fort on January 26, 2021, the Republic Day holiday, before returning to the outskirts of New Delhi. Many of the protesting farmers are from the Sikh religious minority in Punjab and Haryana, groups that oppose PM Modi?s style of making top-down decisions.
India provided about $11 billion in farm subsidies in 2019; most went to support minimum prices for rice and wheat. The government affects farmer behavior in two ways, by setting the minimum price and by determining where it will accept rice and wheat, since few delivery points can increase transport costs. Ending minimum support prices and mandis may attract more buyers, but could also allow a handful of buyers to lower prices via the price offered or the delivery points available.
Modi?s government proposed a $500 billion budget for the April 2021-March 2022 fiscal year. Critics thought that Modi should borrow to counter the estimated eight percent shrinkage in India?s economy in 2020, which was due in part to a hastily implemented lockdown in March 2020. With food prices rising, Modi wants to avoid inflation and a downgrading of India?s debt, prompting a conservative fiscal policy.
A new wave of app-based lenders who charge high fees for short-term loans is sweeping India, using access to information on borrower phones to harass those who do not repay their loans. Chinese lenders developed app-based lending before the practice was curbed, and some of the Chinese lenders moved their operations to India.
Japan. An ILO survey found that many Japanese oppose the government?s plans to admit more low-skilled migrants. A third say that Japan does not need foreign low-skilled migrants, who they say drain the economy and should not be paid the same wages and benefits as Japanese workers in similar jobs. Over half of the Japanese say that irregular foreign workers should have no workplace rights, while over 40 percent say that migrants commit crimes and threaten Japanese culture. Over half of the Japanese respondents reported that they did not know any migrants and had no interactions with them.
Malaysia. Disposable gloves made by Top Glove, the world?s largest rubber glove maker, were seized by CBP at the Los Angeles port in March 2021 due to the use of ?forced labor? in Top Glove?s factories that employ 20,000 migrant workers. Top Glove hired the UK?s Impactt Limited to review its migrant labor practices in July 2020, and IL reported no ?systemic forced labor? among Top Glove?s directly hired workers.
Thailand. The three million migrant workers in Thailand were almost eight percent of the Thai workforce in 2019, but they are not welcomed. Half of Thais say that Thailand does not need foreign low-skilled migrants and 40 percent say that migrants are a drain the economy. Over 70 percent of Thais say that migrants commit crimes in Thailand, and 60 percent say migrants have a poor work ethic and threaten Thailand?s culture. Three-fourths of Thais say that irregular foreign workers should have no workplace rights.
ANZ. Australia produces 85 percent of its own food, including most of its fruits and vegetables. Farmers in February-March 2021 complained of too few farm workers because the borders were closed to new backpackers, foreign youth who since 2005 have been allowed to work a year in nonfarm Australian jobs if they do 88 days of farm work during their first year. Work in rural construction or mining also qualifies, but over 90 percent of backpackers do their first-year work in agriculture.
Some farmers take advantage of backpackers, knowing that they want proof of farm work to extend their stay, by paying them below the required wage of about A$24 an hour and charging high rents for temporary housing. The Australian Workers? Union wants a minimum wage so that backpackers and others can more easily understand what they should be paid.
Some 45,000 backpackers were in Australia in 2021, down from the usual 60,000 to 70,000, and some were in urban areas because they had already fulfilled their farm work requirement. Some of the WHMs in the country when Covid struck in 2020 left before their home countries closed their borders, and Australian borders remain closed to new arrivals.
Employment in Australian agriculture peaks at 120,000 in February and falls to less than 100,000 in April. Fruit crops require three-fourths or more of seasonal workers, and Victoria stands out for employing the most seasonal workers.
About 60 percent of seasonal farm workers are WHMs or guest workers from Pacific Islands. Farmers can recruit adult workers from Pacific Islands, but must pay for the worker?s quarantine, so only 2,400 were in the country in February 2021. Farmers want Pacific Island workers to be allowed to work while quarantining on their farms rather than paying for two weeks of quarantine in hotels.
Australian farm revenues are expected to be A$66 billion in 2020-21, and exports are expected to A$46 billion, 70 percent of farm sales. FVH commodities are worth about A$15 billion, including 40 percent for fruits, 30 percent for vegetables, 10 percent for nuts, and 20 percent for nursery products and flowers.