Faith Thomas, Deutsche Welle, September 3, 2009
Migration is a significant factor in European population statistics, especially in Germany, which hosts the third-highest percentage of international migrants worldwide. One out of four German citizens in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia alone have a migrant background, and 30 percent of them are children. From the 1980s to the present day, Germany has experienced an influx of large numbers of immigrants from African nations and that trend is increasing as more and more people migrate to the West largely due to economic hardships in their home countries.
Initially, historical precedents determined where Africans migrated to–usually the nation’s former colonial power, for instance the large influx of Nigerians into Britain. However, since the 1980s the determining factor in African migration has evolved, as Africans migrate to countries with which they share no historical or linguistic link. In fact, African migration is no longer necessarily cross-continental, as statistics show that over 30 percent of Africans immigrate to European nations while over 65 percent immigrate to another African nation that is politically more stable and industrialized.
Viewpoints on African migration have evolved over the decades from being seen as an issue of national security and concern to a phenomenon of great potential. African diasporas in Europe are increasingly recognized now as central in the area of development cooperation.
Circular migration–a mutually beneficial solution
European migrants with an African background have always played a role in African development cooperation albeit unintentionally through remittances of skilled and well-paid professionals who frequently send money to their home countries to aid their families and communities. In addition, they often invest in their home countries and set up businesses which have then contributed economically to the area.
“The migrants have helped the Millennium Development Goals,” said Leila Rispens-Noel, of the International Alternative Financial Institutions (INAFI), “more than any government I can think of.”
Policy-makers and experts agree that migrants with an African background have a larger role to play in development cooperation in Africa. In this context the concept of circular migration is considered the key to promoting development and is mutually beneficial to African and European nations.
Circular migration encompasses the full circle of migration: migrants would be able to come into host countries, go home, and then come back again with few restrictions. It would alleviate the shortage of labor in EU member nations, cut down on illegal immigration and allow the countries of origin to benefit from the positive impacts of emigration.
Circular migration would thus foster development and address the problems in African nations which contribute to emigration in the first place.
“People wouldn’t move so much in the first place if the factors making them move to other nations would be fixed,” Mariama Awumbila, the head of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, told Deutsche Welle.
Enabling factors for circular migration
The director of AfricaRecruit, Titilola Banjoko, told Deutsche Welle that, “full integration into the society is compulsory so migrants can feel secure and productive and be willing to give back to their home countries. Circular migration is possible only with migrants having secure papers and full integration into the society.”
Europe’s migrants of African background would be willing to go to their home countries for a while and work there; lending their expertise in various professions to the economy, if doing so would not jeopardize their chances to return.
“I for instance have a brother who would have been willing to return home for some time and contribute to the economy but he couldn’t because he didn’t have all the secure papers. If he’d done so, he couldn’t have returned due to his insecure papers,” said Banjoko.
“The re-organization of visa systems,” said Armin Laschet, the minister for intergenerational affairs in North-Rhine Westphalia, “would make circular migration work better. People wouldn’t have to emigrate definitely, they could go back and forth and therefore choose to work in their home countries for a while aiding development cooperation.”
The creation of an enabling environment in the migrants’ home countries is also central to making circular migration work.
“Costs for developing businesses in the diasporas home countries should be made reasonable. Hometown Associations should make efforts to mobilize diasporas for development, including those who have immigrated to other African countries,” said Mariama Awumbila.
Circular migration may be the triple win concept that ensures gain for the host countries, home countries and the migrants themselves. Nevertheless modified visa policies that are conducive for all the various nations involved are crucial to its success.
“Policy for migration is very context-specific. It’s not one size fits all. The visa policy must be suitable for every country involved,” said Awumbila.
Unanswered questions and underdeveloped theory
“The boom in debates on circular migration is because many countries are aware they need a comprehensive migration policy. A 2007 survey conducted by the UN to monitor migration policies revealed 13 percent of industrialized nations wanted to raise their number of temporary immigrants and 44 percent of them planned to increase high-skilled migration. Some countries are starting to revise visa policies because of the growing demand for skilled migrants,” Dr. Steffen Angenendt, an analyst for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told Deutsche Welle.
The most important issue on the table in circular migration is whether it would work with both high-skilled and low-skilled migrants.
“If you want to attract high-skilled migrants it makes no sense to do a temporary stay because companies and organizations they work for in Europe may want to keep them and offer permanent residency. High-skilled migrants have the lowest migration barriers anyway. Thus it makes no sense to introduce circular migration to them. And it’s difficult to predict demand for low-skilled workers and public political support for circular migration programs would be hard to get hold of unless you can identify that demand,” said Dr. Angenendt.
Circular migration has made it on to the political agenda but experts say the factors involved need further fine-tuning to ensure its tenability and success.
“If these things are thought out properly, circular migration could be a very good triple win policy that could really bolster African development. On-the-job training, earning money in higher currency, getting new ideas through being in a new environment always mean progress. The precondition is it must be implemented in a way that is non-discriminatory and mutually beneficial,” said Dr. Angenendt.