With retirement and death rates taking more workers out of the labour force than birth rates can replace them, Government is to introduce “managed migration” in order to provide enough skilled workers to sustain economic growth and prosperity, Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson said yesterday.
Immigration will also guarantee pensions and benefits security to those who have contributed and retired, Hinkson told a citizenship induction ceremony for 64 new Barbadians at the National Union of Public Workers’ Horatio Cooke Auditorium.
He said: “In the last five years, between 2014 and 2018, our rate of natural increase has hovered between 1.2 and -0.4, with our rate of population growth between those years being in the negative — -0.2 per cent in 2014 and 2015, and -0.4 per cent in 2016, 2017 and 2018.”
Contrasting this decline with the population increase in the baby boom years around Independence, he added: “Our birth rate in 1970 was 20.3 per 1,000 people, our death rate was 8.7 per 1,000. In other words we have a rate of natural increase of 11.6 per 1,000 in 1970. Almost two-and-a-half children were being born more than people were dying 50 years ago.”
Hinkson told a roomful of the new citizens, their well-wishers and Immigration Department officials that Government is drastically revising its policies on citizenship widening the scope for more people to become Barbadians, given that the population trend and the need to propel the Barbadian economy past a three-per cent growth rate.
He further quoted census figures that showed Barbados’ population has grown only by approximately 35,000 people in the last 50 years.
In 1970, the population was 240,000; in 1980, 249,000; in 1990, 260,000; in 2000, 269,000 and in 2010, 276,000.
He said: “Last year December, the latest month for which empirical statistics [were] done, our population size was 273,000,” quoting Barbados Statistical Service figures.
Hinkson said the answer to this inadequate birth rate in a nation with aspirations for advanced economic growth lay in managed migration.
He declared: “Our continued prosperity, our sustained growth, socio-economic development.
“The deepening of the quality of our economic growth depends on our attracting requisite skills and expertise not only from CARICOM countries but from outside our region particularly in the Diaspora of our country.”
While encouraging Barbadians to bear as many children as they wish, he dismissed former Education Minister Ronald Jones’ suggestion that women must get more babies as the immediate solution, “because a baby conceived today, born nine months from now will only become an income earner in 20 years’ time at the very least. Before that, the state has to look after that child’s education, health, etcetera”.
He added: “We have in the last 20 to 25 years been experiencing growth at two to three per cent.
“We had a lost decade where we experienced negative growth every year.
“A growth of even three per cent cannot sustain a country.”
The Home Affairs Minister said that there is a need for “people who are willing to come to Barbados to live, to work, to produce, show commitment to this country for us to grow”.
He said this drive to boost the island’s population with adults adding to the workforce is similar to that of the United States, a nation of immigrants – including Barbadians – who built it.
He compared Barbados at 670 square kilometres to Singapore, with an area of 721.5 square kilometres but while Barbados has 273,000 people, the Asian island nation boasts a population of five million.
Hinkson noted that Singapore gained independence only a year before Barbados, as a village-like economy being essentially only a transhipment point for other countries’ cargo. But owing to managed migration, he said, Singapore grew its population and has become a “leading country in the world in terms of competitiveness, ease of doing business, a modern country”.
He declared Singapore “a country that is essentially made up of people from various nations… a model country”.