Around 300 million people live outside their country of birth. For some, the promise of better job prospects and brighter futures drives them. For others, natural disasters, conflict and other factors beyond their control force their hand.
This was a historic year in many ways. The world population cracked 8 billion. COVID-19 border restrictions and quarantine policies eased in many jurisdictions. And the World Openness Score soared past pre-pandemic levels.
As the world reopened, migrant workers were able to get back to work after several years of migration disruptions and delays. While the migrant labor market grew in 2022, the refugee crisis reached a sad milestone with a record 100 million forcibly displaced, according to the UNHCR.
“We often hear the number, but we also must remember that every migrant and refugee is a person with a name, a face and a story. A construction worker supporting their family back home. A domestic worker caring for another family’s children to support their own. A family escaping a civil war,” says Armand Arton, President and CEO of Arton Capital. “When they have the freedom to cross borders safely – whether to flee disaster or seize opportunities – we all benefit as a global society.”
The return of migrant workers
With the easing of COVID-19 border restrictions this year, countries that rely heavily on remittances saw a surge of citizens moving abroad for work. One of the largest deployments took place in Bangladesh, where the number of Bangladeshi migrant workers reached 784,000 – the highest number since 2018 – according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Although more gradual, countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines have seen an upward trajectory but have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels of worker deployments. ADB attributes the growth in migrant labor to three developments: a loosening of quarantine protocols, increased economic activity in key sectors, like service and construction, and more progressive policies across Asia Pacific.
During the pandemic, for example, Australia and New Zealand eased migration policies to increase the number of Pacific Island workers participating in seasonal programs. In 2022, the number of workers from Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in these programs grew substantially.
Meanwhile, some countries in Asia have digitized procedures to facilitate mobility. The ADB noted that Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand all recently introduced virtual pre-departure orientations to make the migration process easier and more efficient (a measure that countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh had adopted before the pandemic).
Other advancements include online work permit applications, job information, complaint channels, and memorandums of understanding between host countries and the governments’ migrant workers to ensure better and safer migration.
“Pandemic policies made it harder for migrant workers to relocate abroad, but we’re now seeing the trend reverse,” says Arton. “Policy reforms have led to greater mobility, which is a positive sign for our global economy as migrant workers form the backbone of many industries and societies, from Gulf countries to Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, and Canada.”
Refugee crises continue
Migration flows in 2022 were also heavily influenced by destabilizing factors, such as conflict and climate change.
In June this year, the UNHCR reported that 103 million people had been forcibly displaced globally. That’s 14 million more than in 2021 – and equivalent to 1 in every 78 people on the planet or about the population of the Philippines.
Among the many catalysts for displacement this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a historic outflow of refugees. According to the OECD’s International Migration Outlook, by mid-September, almost 5 million people had fled Ukraine, most to nearby nations such as Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. The most recent estimates put the number of refugees at more than 7.5 million.
On the other side of the conflict, Russia saw many men flee after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization. Leaked information from Russian security services estimated that more than 260,000 men had left Russia shortly after the move was announced in September.
But Eastern Europe was far from the only region affected by turmoil in 2022. In the Americas, Haiti continued to see citizens fleeing by the tens of thousands. More than a year after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, more than 70% of the population of Haiti lived below the poverty line – a problem worsened by disease, natural disasters and inflation.
Migration from Central America to the US also rebounded to pre-pandemic levels this year. Over 541,000 of the more than 2 million refugees who arrived at the southern US border in 2022 came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – three countries with widespread poverty and high rates of community violence.
Moreover, economic disasters and armed conflicts in Venezuela, Yemen, South Sudan and Ethiopia have driven millions from their homes. A financial crisis in Sri Lanka punctuated by the president fleeing the country sent citizens fleeing to India. Record droughts and famine in Somalia have displaced more than 1.1 million in the last two years. And horrible floods in Pakistan have displaced more than 32 million people.
“The underlying issues forcing people from their homes – poverty, human rights abuses, famine, conflict, natural disasters – show no signs of abating in 2023,” says Arton. “If anything, they could worsen. We need more international cooperation to change the course of migration governance and raise awareness about the humanity of migrants and forcibly displaced people.”