Commentary: Investing in Low-Wage Jobs Is the Wrong Way to Reduce Migration

Author: Jennifer Gordon, Foreign Policy, Published on: 4 February 2019

28 Janurary, 2019.

Amid today’s global immigration crises, wealthy governments are seeking ways to keep out newcomers. Border security measures (typically more sophisticated than U.S. President Donald Trump’s wall) are often first on the list. But other ideas are gaining adherents as well. In the European Union and elsewhere, policymakers are betting that investment and trade will reduce migration from less developed countries. Put money into export-oriented jobs where the would-be workers are, the theory goes, and fewer will leave in search of opportunities elsewhere.

 …Despite its surface appeal, the proposition is rooted more in political expedience than in evidence…Nonetheless, two new international agreements, both endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly last year, affirm the trade and investment approach…More concretely, in the refugee context, the European Union, the World Bank, and other institutions have invested billions of dollars in turning the idea into reality.

...The U.N. Development Program, the World Bank, and other key players’…position ignores a critical issue: Garment work pays too little and demands too much to be a viable option for most Syrian refugees in Jordan...Poverty-level wages and long hours in the garment industry do not have a technical fix—they are structural features of the global apparel business model. Wage levels are a primary driver of brand decisions about where to manufacture garments. Long and unpredictable hours, likewise, are a response to the fast-fashion nature of the sector.

...The lowest-wage export manufacturing jobs are the wrong place to invest all of this faith and money…Over the long term, developed countries hoping for less immigration must support decent work in migrant-origin countries, not a seat at a sewing table at any cost. Unless refugees and would-be migrants can build lives with dignity where they are, they will continue to seek ways to move on.

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