South Asia: Migrant Workers Coming Home

South Asia is a populous region. Many South Asian immigrants or migrant workers travel to distant places around the world in search of a better education, job or better living conditions. However they have close ties to families and friends back home and their remittances play a major role in the economy of their respective countries. In recent times due to global recession and other factors we have seen that a reverse trend is in effect.

Prerna at I love life… so I explore recalls that even aeroplane models were presented at shrines to seek blessings from the Gods in hope of going abroad:

Back in the 70s and 80s, Indians had a huge craze for anything western. Migrating to the UK, Canada or the US was the ultimate dream for many. Opportunities to migrate to the West were so earnestly sought after that divine intervention was regularly sought to facilitate this ambition.

She notices a change now:

However, in recent years, things seem to be changing. The economic growth in the west has slowed down and that has led to many immigrants re-evaluating their choice to move away from home. Over the past few years many NRIs (non resident Indians) in western countries have decided to give up their immigrant status in their adopted countries and return to India.

Supriyo Chaudhuri at Sunday Posts tells about this reverse migration:

Recession, uncertainties and difficulties in the immigration process and emerging opportunities in India combined, have created a flow of reverse migration from the United States to India. There is a trickle added to this from the UK, and the dam has burst in Dubai. So, suddenly, Indian cities are full of returnees, with a bit of cash, trying to start a new life all over again.

Razib Ahmed at South Asia Blog gives an wider perspective of the whole region in the wake of the global recession:

The population of South Asia is almost 1.5 billion. Millions of families depend on the money sent by workers to their families. So, the first fear that we may have about the coming back of migrant workers from developed countries is the possibility of social unrest in 2009 in South Asia. The economies of these countries will surely suffer a lot. If migrant workers come back in large number then this can hurt the foreign exchange reserve’s health in some countries like Bangladesh. Unemployment will increase and so will poverty. There is no debate about the adverse impacts of this phenomenon.

We have seen the signs of the downturn already. Meandering Memos writes:

It was a bit of a rude awakening here when Malaysia recently canceled 55,000 visas for migrant Bangladeshi laborers. The visas that were canceled had already been approved, but the workers had not yet traveled – they were scheduled to replace other workers when their jobs finished. Now the Malaysian government says that with the downturn, it needs to save more jobs for Malaysians.

This trend will hurt Bangladesh badly because:

Manpower is a huge export for Bangladesh – many people say it is the country’s main export. The remittances that the workers send home are Bangladesh’s second-largest source of foreign exchange. The money – almost $10 billion dollars a year – is crucial in supporting families back in the villages and contributes to local economic development.

However these problems can be tackled by the South Asian countries if appropriate measures are taken. Razib Ahmed sees some hope:

The first positive thing that may happen is that many workers will come back and they will bring a lot of saved money. I mean that they will bring all their wealth and it can generate a lot of extra money in short term for all these economies. If the governments can handle this extra foreign exchange (channel in productive sectors) then it can help them to fight against the recession in a better way.

Most of these migrant workers hail from rural areas and after they come back to their own villages, some of them will surely try to start some ventures and this can contribute to the development of some villages. On the other hand, some highly educated people are coming back from Europe and North American countries and this can be a good blessing for some big cities in South Asia.

Supriyo Chaudhuri is also hopeful and comments:

India – which has once in a century opportunity of returning migrants, must take advantage of this to become a great nation. These people, educated and entrepreneurial, can turn the economy and bring a new dynamism into it. The country, however, must facilitate this.


  • Jocee

    So in other words, Indians have come to our country (America), taken jobs from Americans, because he/she is willing to work for less. Now that the jobs that they have taken from Americans have all dried up, they are ready to go home. They now see that the low wages that they have forced upon the American workforce is not enough to live on in this nation, so instead of using their savings to help revive the American economy, they would rather go home and live where their money will go further. I don’t blame them for wanting to get more for their money, but Americans must suffer for their greed.

  • […] The economies of most countries in South Asia depend on the remittances sent by their migrant workers. Rezwan of Global Voices has written a post about the continuing and disturbing trend of migrant workers who are suddenly returning home in South Asia. […]

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