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January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1

Europe, Asia

Over five million Ukrainians were registered for temporary protection in EU countries in December 2022, including a third in Poland; registration allows Ukrainians to work and their children to attend local schools. A third of the Ukrainians in EU nations had found employment by Fall 2022; two-thirds were employed when they were in Ukraine.

The share of Ukrainians with jobs varies by country, and is higher in Poland at 50 percent than in France at 15 percent.

Another 500,000 migrants, many from Afghanistan and Syria, sought asylum in Europe in 2022. Ukrainians are automatically granted work and residence permits, moving them to the front of the line for housing and other services. Asylum seekers from other countries must sometimes wait for housing and services as their applications are considered.

Migrant advocates criticized European governments for not constructing more permanent facilities to receive asylum seekers. Many of the temporary shelters erected to deal with the influx of a million Syrian and other migrants in 2015 were dismantled, forcing governments to once again erect tent and container camps to deal with the 2022-23 influx of migrants.

Italy received 100,000 of the 170,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in 2022, including migrants from Turkey who went to nearby Greek islands in 2015. The Greek coast guard did not allow small boats to land on its islands, so smugglers are using larger boats to take migrants around Greece to Calabria in southern Italy, charging $10,000 per migrant and sometimes using stolen yachts. Most migrants arriving in Italy do not want to apply for asylum there, so they receive papers obliging them to leave within seven days, which allows the migrants to travel to their preferred destination of Germany.

The US Inflation Reduction Act enacted in 2022 offers $369 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to North American companies that develop green technologies, including electric vehicles and their components and solar panels and renewable energy equipment. Europeans complain that the IRA, and the CHIPS Act that aims to bolster American semiconductor manufacturing, could lead to a transatlantic trade war.

Britain. Over 40,000 migrants crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2022, up from less than 30,000 in 2021 and less than 10,000 in 2020. A third of the 2022 arrivals were Albanians, a country with which the UK does not have a fast-track deportation procedure. EU countries reject almost all Albanian asylum claims, but the UK allows half of Albanian asylum seekers to remain.

PM Rishi Sunak in December 2022 promised new laws to bar foreigners who arrive illegally from remaining in the UK and to speed decisions on the 150,000 asylum applications in the backlog. Britain in November 2022 offered $76 million to France over two years to pay for patrols of French beaches to deter migrants from leaving in small boats for the UK. The English Channel is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point from France.

Some 50,000 foreigners applied for asylum in the UK in 2021, but fewer than 10 percent of their cases were resolved, leading to crowded centers for asylum seekers. Three-fourths of all asylum applicants are eventually allowed to remain in the UK.

Conservative PM Liz Truss was in office only 44 days in Fall 2022 before being replaced by Rishi Sunak, the son of Indian immigrants who is married to the daughter of the founder of Infosys, a Bangalore-based IT outsourcer that often takes over the operation of tech systems at US and European firms and replaces local workers with guest workers and workers based in India. Sunak raised taxes and reduced spending to shrink budget deficits and to raise the value of the pound, and proposed an increase in the national living wage from L9.50 to L10.42 an hour.

Since 1955, five Conservative PMs attended Eton College and Oxford University, often studying PPE, politics, philosophy, and economics. Many joined the Oxford Union to practice parliamentary-style debates, gaining self-confidence and, critics argue, becoming disconnected from the concerns of the broader public.

The UK has four agencies authorized to recruit up to 38,000 foreign workers for up to six months of employment in agriculture.

France. The French government is considering legalizing unauthorized migrants and shrinking UI benefits to fill vacant jobs, drawing opposition from anti-migrant political parties and unions. Employers in many sectors, including construction, transportation, agriculture and hospitality, complain of unfilled jobs.

Under the legalization proposal, unauthorized foreigners could apply for renewable one-year “skills in demand” residence permits, and asylum seekers would not have to wait six months for work permits. The government’s bill would also make it easier to deport foreigners convicted of crimes in France.

The Macron government in January 2023 made a second attempt to raise the retirement age for full benefits from 62 to 64 by 2030; Macron also proposed a raise in the minimum monthly pension payment to E1,200 a month. A previous 2019 proposal to consolidate 42 pension plans was opposed by unions and postponed due to covid. Macron said: “We need to work more to pass on to our children a fair and durable social model.” A million people protested Macron’s plans in January 2023.

France raised its retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2010. Many French employers do not hire workers over 55, so that only half of those 55 to 64 are employed, one of the lowest employment rates for this age group in industrial countries. France introduced a retirement age of 60 in 1981, and a 35-hour work week in 1997.

French farmers rely on reservoirs to provide irrigation water, but recent government-supported efforts to construct larger reservoirs in western France have drawn opposition from environmentalists. Some 50 mega basins have been built or are under construction to irrigate corn and wheat near the Marais Poitevin, France’s second largest wetland.

UNESCO added the baguette to its “intangible cultural heritage” list in November 2022, citing the unique role in French life of the flour, water, salt and yeast in the 250-gram loaf of bread that costs about E1.

Germany. A sixth of German residents were born outside the country, including ethnic Germans born in the ex-USSR who are considered German citizens upon arrival; a seventh of US residents were born abroad. Germany is struggling to get newcomers into jobs. A third of the 800,000 working-age Syrians and Afghans in Germany have a taxpaying job after five years in the country, compared with two-thirds of Germans.

Germany plans to introduce a points-based immigrant selection system in 2023, building on a Blue Card program that attracted about 7,000 foreigners a year over the last decade, most of whom were already in Germany. Many of the asylum seekers in Germany have not graduated from secondary school, and few have the occupational credentials required by German employers.

The SPD-Green-FDP coalition government in November 2022 proposed to reduce the minimum residence requirement for naturalization from eight to five years and to allow more naturalized Germans to retain their old citizenship. Almost 12 million or 14 percent of the 84 million residents of Germany are foreigners; an easier path to naturalization is aimed at expediting the integration of foreigners into German society.

The coalition government in February 2022 called for a Zeitenwende or turning point in foreign and military policy after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including adding E100 billion to military spending. Germany was very dependent on Russian natural gas and embarked on a rush program to wean Germany from Russian energy.

Police raided the Reichsbürger movement in December 2022, a group of over 20,000 that aims to overthrow the German government by arguing that it was established unlawfully by the Allies after WWII. Reichsbürger adherents oppose immigration to Germany.

Greece. The conservative government in January 2023 prosecuted 24 members of NGOs who help migrants to enter Greece illegally from Turkey, charging them with human smuggling and money laundering. The migrant activists say they are helping people who are in danger of drowning, and that the Greek government is prosecuting them to slow migrant arrivals.

Italy. Migrants continue to cross the Mediterranean in small boats from Libya, and increasingly from Tunisia as conditions in the country that launched the Arab Spring in 2011 deteriorate. Shortages of food in supermarkets as well as a president elected in 2019 who has assumed ever more power have half of Tunisians to consider emigrating.

Many Italian cities and areas do not have housing plans, so people build illegally and obtain permits during periodic amnesties. Cities that discover illegal buildings or extensions must pay to demolish them, so they do not check carefully.

The $6 billion MOSE project was deployed in November 2022 to prevent Venice from flooding during high tides. MOSE consists of 78 rectangular yellow metal barriers that are pumped with air and raised from the sea floor to block high Adriatic tides from inundating Venice.

Netherlands. Dutch farmers are leaders in CEA, growing crops in greenhouses and other structures to increase yields up to 10 times using less land, water, and pesticides. There are 24,000 acres of greenhouses that produce fruits, vegetables and flowers, many in Westland near Rotterdam.

Rising energy costs may slow the expansion of Dutch CEA, which replaces most sunlight with artificial light and heat to control growing conditions. Plantlab is a vertical farmer that grows plants in vermiculite and does not touch the leafy greens and tomatoes that are produced and packed by machines.

Dutch farms also export meat, including pork, beef, and poultry. Vion Food Group has four plants in the Netherlands and eight in Germany that process 15 million hogs a year. Vion pigs weigh 265 pounds after 175 days.

Dutch farm exports were almost $110 billion in 2021, second only to the US at $165 billion. Many Dutch farm exports are re-exports, meaning that imported flowers and bananas arrive in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and are re-exported to other European countries.

China. There were 10.4 million deaths and 9.6 million births in China in 2022, the first time that deaths outnumbered births since the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s failed economic experiment in the 1960s that led to famine. China’s population of 1.4 billion includes almost a third people who are over 60. Many Chinese couples are DINKS, Double Income, No Kids.

China provided $1 trillion in loans and grants for its Belt and Road infrastructure program over the past decade, surpassing the US as the world’s largest creditor to developing countries. The US has accused China of debt diplomacy, noting that 60 percent of China’s overseas loans are to countries in financial distress, a sharp increase from five percent in 2010.

The goal of Belt and Road was to help developing countries with natural resources to better supply the Chinese market and to create jobs for Chinese contractors. China is reluctant to take losses on its loans, and often extends the maturity of loans when borrowers cannot repay.

Some of the 600,000 Chinese migrant workers employed on Belt and Road projects in summer 2021 alleged that they were tricked by offers of higher wages than they received once abroad. With the covid pandemic reducing flights to and from China, some of the Chinese migrants reported being unable to return to China at the end of their contracts when employers refused to allow them to leave.

Chinese-linked companies are operating more of the world’s ports, which could strengthen the Chinese navy. Chinese-linked companies build almost all of the world’s shipping containers and half the world’s commercial ships. China has had a military base in Djibouti since 2017.

Xi Jinping became the first leader since Mao to rule for more than a decade after being elected to a third five-year term as general secretary and head of the Central Military Commission in October 2022. Xi has promised to make China a military and economic superpower by following a state-dominated path to a self-reliant economy.

Hong Kong in October 2022 announced plans to offer high earners (incomes above $300,000) and graduates of the world’s top 100 universities two-year visas, as well as tax breaks to some foreign-property buyers who go on to become permanent residents. Hong Kong lost 140,000 workers during 2020 and 2021 due to stringent covid controls; 60 percent were highly skilled.

India. India’s capital Delhi is blanketed in smog each November-December, as cold air traps pollutants and smoke from farmers who burn stubble in nearby Punjabi fields. Air pollution readings of 450 are common, which is 10 times the WHO’s recommended upper limit of 45 over 24 hours for air quality. India is among the developing countries that want rich countries to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

A 143-year old pedestrian bridge in Morbi in the western state of Gujarat collapsed in October 2022, killing 134 people including many migrant workers who moved to the relatively prosperous state from other Indian states to work in the ceramics industry. Federal and state governments offered compensation to the families of those who died while they investigated Oreva or Ajanta Manufacturing, the firm that fixed the bridge. The local government wanted a maximum 20 people on the bridge at once; there were an estimated 300 people on the bridge when it collapsed.

Gautam Adani, India’s richest man worth $120 billion, built his fortune by burning coal to generate electricity, helping to make India the world’s third largest carbon emitter. Adani Group operates India’s largest private port in Mundra, where coal is burned alongside solar farms to generate electricity. Some of the coal is from the Carmichael project in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mining operations. Both Adani and PM Narendra Modi are from Gujarat, a west-central Indian state.

Japan. Japan has three million foreign residents and Korea 2.5 million. Both countries have aging and shrinking populations, and employers want governments to admit more foreign workers.

Japan had 1.7 million foreign workers at the end of 2021, up from 700,000 in 2011, including many trainees from China and Vietnam. Japan opened more doors to skilled foreigners in 2018, and some 36,000 Indian IT workers and their families lived in the Edogawa section of eastern Tokyo in 2022. Indian IT workers say that Japanese firms often have rigid corporate hierarchies that resist change, the opposite of Silicon Valley, where salaries can be twice those of Japan.

Korea admitted 110,000 guest workers who can remain up to four years and 10 months in 2022 (five years of residence can lead to immigrant status).

Pakistan. Heavy glacier melt and record monsoon rains led to some of the worst flooding in decades in southeastern Pakistan, where sharecroppers are often in debt to the landlords who lend them money for fertilizer and seed. Many farmers aim to harvest a wheat crop in the spring before planting cotton for a fall harvest, providing wheat for bread and generating a net income of less than $500 a year.

Qatar. Soccer’s World Cup was held in Qatar in November-December 2022; the winner of the 32-team competition was Argentina. The oil-rich nation spent $220 billion on highways, a metro system, a new airport, eight new stadiums, and high-rises that were built with the help of millions of migrant workers from low-wage neighboring countries.

Over 90 percent of Qatar’s private sector workers are migrants. The Qatar government changed its labor laws to increase protections for migrant workers. Many of the migrants from Nepal, India, and other countries paid to get jobs in Qatar, sometimes up to six months Qatari wages of $300 to $400 a month.

Unions and NGOs complained that up to 6,500 migrants died working in Qatar since 2010, and their deaths were often attributed to heart attacks rather than working in hot and humid weather and suffering from kidney failure. The Qatar government’s hopes that the World Cup would transform both the country and foreigners’ views of the country were frustrated by the steady criticism, including from some the 15,000 journalists and 1.5 million fans who arrived. Some Qataris noted that European critics did not level similar criticisms at neighboring Saudi Arabia and the UAE, countries that also rely on migrants to fill most private sector jobs.

Australia. The Labor government plans to expand the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) scheme to 35,000 by 2023, in part by reimbursing approved employers who hire PALM workers but cannot recoup travel costs from the workers in wage deductions.

Australian farmers rely mostly on Working Holiday Makers to fill seasonal farm jobs. Over 200,000 WHM visas were granted in 2018-19, and an average 35,000 WHMs were employed in fruit and vegetable agriculture. No WHM visas were issued between March 2020 and February 2022 due to covid.

When WHM visas became available again in 2022, fewer foreign youth arrived due to fears of more border closures and stories of WHMs who seek credit for 88 days of farm work so they can stay a second year being exploited in farm jobs.

New Zealand’s Recognized Seasonal Employer program allows Pacific Islanders to fill New Zealand farm jobs for seven to nine months. The cap on admissions was set at 5,000 when the RSE was introduced in 2007, and is 19,000 for 2023, when the RSE expands to meat and seafood processing jobs. Most RSE workers, who must be paid at least NZ$22.10 an hour, are from Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

NZ Labor PM Jacinda Ardern announced that, after 5.5 years, she would resign in February 2023 and not seek re-election in October 2023, where polls show that Labor trails the center-right National Party. Ardern was praised for tough covid restrictions that minimized infections in 2020 and 2021 but led to demonstrations against mandates to be vaccinated in a country with few protests.

New Zealand is sometimes called the “shaky isles” because its small and open economy fluctuates with global developments such as growth in China and NZ is at risk of natural disasters because it lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Private debt is at 150 percent of GDP, comparable to the US but higher than the 130 percent of Australia. Ardern’s government banned zoning for single-family homes in large cities, but it may take decades for cheaper housing to emerge.

A cyberattack took many Vanuatu government services offline for most of November 2022 after the government refused to pay a ransom to the hackers, slowing interactions between the country’s 320,000 residents and their government. A December 2022 election in Fiji, which experienced four coups between 1987 and 2006, saw two coup leaders compete for power to lead the country of one million.

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