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Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Do We Keep Believing That Zero Migration is Optimal?

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) is usually an institution I hold in high regard, but lately I believe it is confused with its mission. A news report  claims it aims to halt the migration of domestic workers overseas.
The Philippines plans to phase out the migration of maids, nannies and other household workers over the next five years, according to a Manila newspaper. The programme to counter abuse of domestic workers overseas will affect about 180 countries, and is expected to be ready for implementation by the end of this year. The aim is to provide alternative jobs for household service workers, either in the Philippines or in approved countries overseas.
I understand the need to create better employment opportunities domestically, but this can be done WITHOUT barring the out-migration of domestic workers. Preventing household service workers from leaving does nothing in generating more jobs locally.

People willingly migrate because opportunities abroad are better than what they would have had if they stayed. I do not wish to discount that abuse happens, just like in any risky investment that one undertakes, but most migrants fully realize this, and yet they still undertake the risk, simply because the opportunity is better than the alternative - poverty. The solution is to find ways to prevent abuse, to keep migrants informed, and of course to continue trying to improve the local economy. Barring migration does nothing to aid in this. In fact, it may even exacerbate the problem as domestic workers will still continue to go abroad, albeit illegally, now that formal channels will be shut down.

I'm not sure why officials keep insisting that zero migration is optimal. For that matter, why should it be a proper goal of any institution? Poverty reduction should be the goal. And poverty reduction can happen whether the person stays in a country or out of it. Poverty reduction anyway, is not necessarily about place, as much as it is about people.

It is absurd to me. Perhaps internationally, it doesn't sound as much, but consider if someone barred you from migrating locally? Nobody would ever consider a policy of restricting Cebuanos from migrating to Manila in the name of developing its local economy. (By the way, this sounds very much like apartheid). Families would never restrict their children from leaving their households in the name of "we want this household to be better." But how come if we talk about zero migration with respect to international migration it suddenly makes sense? Why?