The head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is urging Barbadians and their CARICOM neighbours to embrace immigration and quickly rid themselves of a “toxic” anti-immigration stance.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder told Barbados TODAY that although the time is ripe for ramped-up free movement of workers, the notion is surprisingly unpopular.
He pointed out that given Barbadian concerns that workforce levels are unsustainable given an aging population, immigration was one of the fixes that should be seriously considered.
But Ryder suggested this negative attitude to immigration was by no means limited to the Caribbean but had now become a global reality.
“Here is one of the paradoxes of our time and we are seeing it across the board. At a time when the economic case for more liberal migration has never been stronger because we will all benefit economically from more liberal and permissive migration, the political and social obstacles to migration seem to be growing.”
Ryder explained that several regional leaders, including Prime Minister Mia Mottley have highlighted this as a concern, which is hindering the obvious solution to underpopulation and aging population facing several Caribbean countries.
Ryder told Barbados TODAY: “This is becoming a toxic issue and people are becoming very defensive.
“In my view, I think we have to reconsider how we react to this unhelpful toxicity throughout the migration mobility process.
“I met with the Prime Minister of Barbados yesterday who noted that in the Caribbean we are totally underpopulated but yet we are seeing this type of resistance and nervousness to increased migration.”
Last August, the longstanding visa requirement for Haitians coming to Barbados was lifted.
But the early stages of the visa-free entry from CARICOM’s poorest member state did not go smoothly, as many Haitians made the journey to Barbados in search of work. Some ended being stranded in the country after promises of jobs failed to materialise. Critics blamed the lifting of the visa requirement for the problem.
Earlier this year, Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson, who holds the immigration portfolio, unveiled Government’s plans to enhance the labour force by addressing the island’s immediate need for skilled people through a policy of ‘managed migration’.
Hinkson told his constituents back in January: “We believe that our population has to be developed. Certainly, I as Minister of Immigration am firmly of that view that we have too small a population for Barbados to sustain and grow this economy and we will have managed migration into this country especially among our fellow Caribbean people who are productive, who will make a mark.”
He said that the island, however, would not be open to “those who are going to be a drain on our economy or public purse”, but would be welcoming “those who are productive, who have skills. We need more young people in this country in their most productive age”.
Ryder strongly supported Government’s stance on immigration but noted that in order for it to be effective, there needed to be buy-in across the board.
He said: “The fact of the matter is that where skills shortages exist at a certain location, one way of compensating is simply to facilitate labour mobility.
“This could be restricted to the CARICOM region or it could be extended globally. However, we need to get over this reticence thinking towards migration.”