Event Details

  • Date and Time: December 16, 2021; 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm IST
  • Topic: The COVID 19 Pandemic – The Growing Debate of Inequality and Migration
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Panelists:
    • Speaker: Dr. Sumeetha M, Economist and Research Fellow, CPPR
    • Moderator: Ms. Nissy Solomon, Senior Associate, Research, CPPR


  • Migration being a historical phenomenon gathers a lot of attention. The number of international migrants has gone up through the years. As per the statistics, from the 1990s to 2015 the number of international migrants has risen by more than 60%. Most of the international migrants are from the South Asian region. The skilled migrants outflow from South Asia are to the Western countries and the semi-skilled and less skilled migrants prefer Middle east countries. 
  • Remittances are one of the main drivers of international migration. Most of the remittances to South Asia are primarily from UAE, Saudi and Qatar accounting for about 60% of the total remittances.
  • The trend in the usage pattern of remittances shows that till the 1970s the remittances were mostly used in the consumption sector by receiving countries and after the 1970s the receiving countries have started  reinvesting them as well as started replacing the international aid in developing countries.
  • The inequality debate has become more relevant in the background of The UN SDG target 10 that aims at reducing inequality within and among countries. Even with higher economic growth the disparities between have and have-nots haven’t improved.
  • Stiglitz’s book on “ Price of inequality “ was quoted by the Speaker to highlight the importance of policy intervention in reducing inequalities in the livelihoods of migrants and how it can influence the generational mobility of income.
  • Remittances improve the income of receiving countries, bringing changes in consumption patterns that are observed in countries with more migrants. Sectors like real estate, education, health care etc expanded and the inequalities among migrant and non migrant families started widening.
  • Income differences between countries is one of the most fundamental drivers of international migration. Further type of skills possessed by a migrant is a factor in deciding the vulnerability of the jobs done by migrants especially during a pandemic situation. Those who work in the construction, hospitality sector etc have had to face the troubles during a pandemic.
  • Patterns of inequality are identified based on a classification. 
    • Skilled and semiskilled
    • Temporary, permanent, semi-permanent
    • Care work, domestic work
  • The remittances from the above classes of migrants will be different. Also, the issues faced by differently skilled people are also varied. For example, women who work in the care sector are vulnerable, during pandemics they found it difficult to access health care as well as vaccinations etc which may not be the case of a skilled IT professional.
  • The South Asian migration pattern is asymmetric in different countries in the region. In the Indian case, two main streams of migration are the semiskilled and less skilled migrants who prefer Middle East countries and high skilled workers( doctors, nurses, IT professionals )who move to the US, Australia etc.
  • Also, the labour market in migration is changing over the years, it is not male-centric anymore as women are migrating more these days especially in care work.
  • In the case of Sri Lanka, the migrations were mostly to the Middle East and most of the migrants were women engaged in domestic work. Even though men from the country earned and saved more than women, women used their savings more wisely in investments like grocery stalls and animal husbandry.
  • Pakistan migrants are migrating mainly to GCC countries. Remittances to Pakistan were huge and it was not affected much by the Pandemic due to tax incentives provided by the government.
  • The immediate impact of migration during the COVID 19 pandemic was felt due to lockdown in the form of reduction of remittances and lack of work for returnee migrants.
  • Migrants of middle east countries suffered due to the pandemic added to by the fall of oil prices. The loss of jobs and the huge debt burden made them stay back in those countries. They continued to work in unhealthy conditions ( labour camps)  without proper COVID protocol measures.
  • The shutdown during the pandemic resulted in the loss of jobs in sectors like construction, hospitality, tourism, retail where migrant workers are largely employed led to a decrease in remittances which in turn affected the standards of living, nutrition and health of family members back in their home countries.
  • The women migrant workers, mostly employed in care work and textile industries, had difficulties, as they were not interested in returning back to their country of origin due to debts to be paid.
  • The long term effects of the pandemic will be felt in the coming years as the savings are used up by migrants and those who have returned have no jobs and those who returned back to host countries have lost their jobs there.
  • What the countries need is a long term well-informed policy intervention based on relevant data to reduce inequalities caused by migrations. Long term policy-making involves stakeholders meetings and enforcing migrant laws with regard to wages, conditions of service as well as the steps to be taken to take care of returnees migrant workers. 
  • To the question as to whether the huge remittances to Kerala has reduced the state’s inequalities, the speaker pointed out that from the early 1970s, the consumption patterns have changed due to gulf migrants. Even though the poverty numbers reduced and the state GDP rose up, the change in consumption patterns have created inequalities among migrants and non-migrant households.

The event report is prepared by Anu Maria Francis, Research Intern, CPPR.

In case you missed it, watch the event video recording here

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