The global migrant crisis continues to unfold, and today we can certainly speak about a historic crisis, and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. As the number of political and economic refugees increases, so does the tension between countries and the opposition between those who welcome them and those who don’t. The migrant debate is very heated and very emotional, with feelings of fear and lack of security mixing with a sense of moral responsibility and empathy towards human misery. On one hand, the unemployment rates are already high, the integration of culturally different refugees is very expensive, and the whole migration process is out of control… On the other hand, just a short reference to the horrific incidents of a drowned Syrian boy, or dozens of dead refugees in a truck in Austria, and the humanly innate empathy kicks in.
Although emotions are very relevant in this situation, at times they block more objective reasoning and action. Currently, the main line of argument in the media and wider public goes something like this: ‘there are too many refugees, they are a burden, BUT we have our moral responsibility to take them in’. Yet, although rarely pronounced and often overlooked, there is also a more opportunistic mood in the air.
As highlighted in a recent Guardian article, ‘one of the ironies about Europe’s state of panic about migration across the Mediterranean is that for a number of years policymakers have been warning that Europe’s population is ageing and, in many countries, shrinking’. The same notion of the upcoming labor shortages was brought up also in one of my earlier blog posts. According to various forecasts, due to an aging population, continuously decreasing birth rates, and the retirement of the baby boomers, the mature economies are expected to experience significant labor shortages already by the year 2025. For example, it is projected that Germany will have a 23% labor gap by 2030. By that time, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Russia and Brazil will also experience a lack of working population. So, while the majority of our largest economies will face labor shortages, aren’t these economies exactly the places where refugees are headed to? And this is where some see the opportunities; here is where global business interests may converge with humanitarian interests.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) argues that we should rather speak about refugee migration than about refugee resettlement. According to MPI’s report many refugees are educated and have technical or professional skills, which are currently wasted in endless waiting lines in refugee camps. Instead, this population could be allocated more effectively to fill labor market gaps, and businesses have an opportunity to engage proactively with this process.
The German Federal Employment Agency makes a similar point, urging German employers to tap into the potential of refugees. Indeed, many refugees are eager to work, and offer their professional qualifications, language skills, and their diversity. As for the latter, there is a host of benefits of diversity for business performance and employee satisfaction.
Naturally, turning refugees into employees is challenging, and different countries have different needs in terms of labor gaps. But this simply means that we need to gather knowledge about the skills of the global refugee population, and try to match these skills with global demand. We need to converge global business needs with our moral responsibilities, and make it work on a global scale. And we definitely need formal policies and order, as to reduce the emotional response induced by the chaotic and uncontrolled inflow of refugees. Yet, this can be done only through global cooperation and involvement of both the humanitarian and business sectors. Most important of all though is the initial change of perception from refugee to migrant, and from burden to opportunity.