One million Barbadians could be the boost the economy really needs, respected economist Jeremy Stephen has suggested, as he threw his strong support behind Government’s push towards a managed migration
Citing his own research, he said economic development would grow significantly if the Barbadian population were to quadruple its current size of 280,000 to at least one million.
Noting that Barbados may only be able to double its population in the next two decades, he stressed that no managed migration programme should come before assured investment in new sectors. He further argued that managed migration must only be for the purpose of filling voids in the skills needed for the new non-traditional sectors without risk of disenfranchising Barbadians.
Stephen told Barbados TODAY: “About 80 per cent of Barbados’ industry is directed inwards, so in other words, you make the money on activity happening on the ground.
“If you have an increase in population, especially from those that are brought in high-value areas, it is greater likelihood that the goods and services on the island can serve more people and as a result you will get an increase in GDP.”
Arguing that history is on his side, the UWI economist said all of the countries that have gone this route, numbering about 20 in the last two decades, have reaped significant economic benefits.
He explained: “There has never been a case in history where managed migration has not resulted in positive economic results for that country.
“In cases where you are purposely filling gaps that the current population is not prepared to take up for one reason or another, be it a lack of skill or resources, there is no evidence of displacement of locals.
“The only way you have displacement is if you bring people that can replace locals simply by under-pricing and not by skill.”
Noting that Barbados has suffered from low birth rate and high net migration over the last 20 years, Stephen argued that managed migration is the obvious solution, adding that it must be done on a large scale in order for it to make sense.
He said: “Any country that has a high net migration will always have a drag on its economic growth. In addition, the cost of living is becoming so high that there is now a distortion between the public pension [NIS] and what persons actually need to survive.
“The way you fund pensions is through birth rates, through population growth and through productivity.
“Persons who will be accessing the pensions in another five years will be the first persons to begin to feel the impact of these problems, although we are seeing them to some extent already.”
But when asked about housing that many people on a 166 square mile landmass, Stephen explained that this would require a major shift in culture, as Barbadians will need to get used to the idea of living in apartments in high-rise buildings, instead of houses with substantial yard space.
The economist said: “This is going to be one of the major adjustments for Barbadians because given the size of the island. It means that we are going to have to build up and not out.
“In other words, people would have to become accustomed to living in apartments.
“It may have to be similar to the NHC projects but much better managed than before.
“I believe that there are many young Barbadians that would be okay with this type of accommodation, but the question is if the older parts of the population will also be willing to do so.”
Stephen also called for the ramping up of social services, which he believes would be possible if there is an influx of persons and businesses contributing to the public coffers.
He said: “You are going to have a lot more tax revenue coming in but when that happens, you have to re-direct towards four key areas; healthcare, education, housing and water.
“There has to be major development over a ten to 20-year period in order to sustain the population increase.”