Dzenan Smajic is a Fellow of Islam & Liberty Network. He is a freelance journalist and blog editor in Bosnia and Herzegovina and author.
For decades policymakers have been discussing migration problems and how they are interconnected with democratic deficit in source states and does it mean valuable human capital loss or the picture is not so evident and clear regarding the possibility that skilled migrants interact with their home states. With new evidence on the table, governments should concern themselves more with how to improve the democratic environment, and to build institutions to foster the needed growth. Working every day with newly arriving migrants mostly from Muslim-majority countries whose goal is to cross Bosnia and Herzegovina and enter European Union I started to think about how all of those migrants as human capital will interact in the future with their source state. Our focus is Muslim-majority countries but undeniably emigration is not something unique to these countries but it is a huge challenge and that is how it needs to be portraited if those countries are willing to tackle this kind of problem.
A few years ago in B&H, you could read discussions on how to improve state institutions and what kind of moves to do to counter the emigration of young and skilled labor to the EU. B&H was by definition mainly a sending country but in the last two years that changed a lot. B&H is still and it will be despite the eventual growth, a sending country, but what changed is that it became also a host country to immigrants from places from Western Sahara to India. Since a large number of displaced persons are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, a large number of illegal immigrants coming to B&H are from these countries, but also a serious number of arrivals were recorded from different regions of Pakistan. Although we have been following a serious globalization trend for decades now, and how certain countries had emigration and immigration issues at the same time and difficulty coping with it, B&H has recently started to face the same phenomenon.
This topic, important as it is remains primarly the question of citizenship premium and inequality among countries. Having read the book Global Inequality written by Branko Milanovic things started to be more clear regarding the questions of immigration and how citizenship premium plays an important part in making decisions where to move. Citizenship premium means briefly that the place of your birth is very significant and especially for those who are belonging to the lowest part of the income distribution. To be born in Sweden and to be poor means you are doing relatively better than someone who is poor but the place of his birth is in Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, etc.
Citizenship premium is a kind of a rent as it gives you better market opportunities and finest level of institutional organization. Not all immigrants are leaving their source country because of income inequalities but all of them are seeking for better institutions. One example from B&H describes the exact point of the citizenship premium and its implications on migration. To be born in Iraq nowadays, even if you are not poor will not satisfy you if there is a need for a high quality public institution. That is exactly what happened with one Iraqi family when they decided to leave their source country and move to the EU. Their children were suffering from a rare disease so they could not be provided with even basic medical aid in their source country which was a trigger to leave Iraq. It’s an example of inequality of opportunities regarding the levels of inequality between national states. It is not just that poor people or those who are forced by war are leaving their source country, but at the same time very skilled labor is doing the same and reasons behind those decisions are described by a huge gap among rich countries and poor or developing ones in the term of inequality of opportunities.
It is assumed that migrations affect negatively sending communities or source state but with new evidence what we do know is not a clear picture but a colorful one with possibilities of unexpected effects. Economists keep investigating costs of migration for migrants’ source state and if migrations especially of highly skilled labor drain home countries of knowledge and valuable human resources. It seems that answers are not single-sided. A number of issues remain open such as migrants’ contribution to knowledge and innovations and the possibility of source state to use that.
Emigration is usually represented as a cost for source country mostly described in media and literature as a brain drain but nowadays this one-sided description of this phenomenon is countered by evidence that source country can benefit from diaspora communities in different kinds of ways. Migrants tend to have strong social ties between themselves creating a cohesive community that can communicate and transmit valuable knowledge and information to their home country and they are doing it in a more effective way than any individual can do.
Muslim majority countries are dealing with the drain of its human valuable resources the same as my home state B&H but the point is what kind of policies each of those countries plans to implement. In the age of globalization, we are constantly talking about the freedom of movement of capital and goods, but when we start talking about the freedom of movement of people, we encounter difficulties in how to face this challenge. To deal with a home problem of a large number of emigrations, mostly recommended policies are focusing on restrictions of movement of people and rarely there are policies about how to absorb knowledge generated by diaspora communities. Democratic deficiencies in Muslim-majority countries are best observed at the level of underutilized valuable human resources in diaspora communities. There are different types of migration, so it is necessary to keep in mind that there are differentiations in order to properly address the problems of migration at all. Majority-Muslim countries need to talk more about how migration processes can be useful both for market development and for improving the quality of companies in different sectors. Restrictive measures against the freedom of movement of people will make it difficult to obtain the desired outcomes, while, on the other hand, with adequate policies to exploit a given process for the benefit of all, it is possible to achieve certain desired outcomes.