Editorial TOI -Safe Migration

For the past few weeks, thousands of immigrants have hit the streets in major American cities to protest government policy. The protests were aimed at pressuring US Congress into granting amnesty to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants and scuttling a proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border. The largest demonstrations were held in California which is home to over 2.5 million illegal migrants, mostly from Mexico. A look at some numbers gives an indication of the extent to which the American economy depends on immigrants. Since 2000, migrants have filled about 85 per cent of new jobs in the US. Each year roughly 1.2 million migrants, both legal and illegal, enter the US. Of these a majority works in agriculture and low-paying jobs in cities. So immigrants end up doing jobs that American citizens are unwilling to take up. The situation is not very different in Europe where immigrants from Africa and Asia do much of the menial work. Though immigrants are the target of abuse and discrimination, it is clear that without them most countries in the developed world would grind to a halt. The contribution of immigrants, especially those in unskilled jobs, to First World economies might seem irrelevant to us. But in fact it isn’t. Bangladeshi and Nepalese migrants to India are playing the roles of Mexicans in the US and Algerians in France. Though estimates of the number of migrants vary wildly there is little doubt that they perform a vital function in the Indian economy. From construction labour to domestic helps, migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal help meet the demand-supply gap in minimum wage jobs. For too long this issue, especially immigration from Bangladesh, has been politicised. It is time we come to grips with the fact that as India becomes an economic powerhouse, it will attract more migrants from neighbouring nations looking for higher wages. There is an urgent need to get hard statistics on migrants and put a value to their economic contribution. There is also a seamy side to this migration which involves terrorists, sex workers and child labour. A policy to control the inflow of workers and to give them work permits must be implemented. This would not only give legal protection to migrants but also help in weeding out undesirable elements.

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