MIGRATION programs of countries are man-made. The reasons for changing them are not. Well, not directly.
The pandemic, for one, started when someone (unidentified and will probably remain unknown) ate an animal bought from the Huanan seafood market — either a bat or a pangolin. That was in December 2019, hence the name of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Six months later, 6,724,516 people have been infected; 394,018 died. On the bright side, 2,996,832 have recovered.
Countries have chosen to reopen their economies. Businesses in the United States, Canada, Australia and a number of European countries, including Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, have put out the welcome mat for tourists — but only those with government-issued health certificates or those from countries that are partners in so-called “travel bubble” partnerships.
Hospitality and restaurant establishments have opened their doors while setting the bar high for safety protocols.
The jobs report from the US — a gain of 2.5 million jobs in May, the first time the economy added jobs since February, led by hundreds of thousands of workers returning to jobs in restaurants, health care and construction in several states.
The silver lining still cannot cover the dark clouds of approximately “30 million workers still collecting unemployment benefits, including 1.9 million people whose initial claims were processed last week,” according to US government claims data.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stepped into an inter-state border closure between Queensland and Western Australia, expressing his keen interest on Australian radio June 6 “to see Australia’s economy continue to reopen on the timetable for interstate travel set by the country’s national Cabinet” within the July time frame.
New Zealand may have been ahead of everybody else in beating the virus and returning to nearly normal life. Interesting because New Zealand is the biggest two-island nation and major country to see the sun rise every day.
There has been no report of a single new case in New Zealand in the past four days.
Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern is elated, but still urges everyone to stay vigilant.
“We may have won a few battles, but we have not won the war,” she reminded New Zealanders and potential migrants — temporary or permanent.
Satisfied that the United Kingdom government can safely transition out of lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that starting June 1, “people in England could meet in groups of up to six, provided the meeting was done outdoors either in public space or private garden” with the requisite physical distancing guideline of 2 meters apart.
Across the Atlantic pond, three Canadian provinces are cautiously resuming “the trappings of life prior to the outbreak.” Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have allowed the reopening of “restaurants, cafés and pubs, retail and personal service establishments, libraries, museums and galleries, office spaces, childcare facilities, parks and beaches.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the ban on non-essential travel between the Canada and the US would remain until June 21 “as a necessary step to protect the health of residents on both sides of the border.”
The common thread among the countries reopening is the acknowledgment that full recovery and return to the old normal will take two to three years.
Infected migration programs
So, what happens now after Covid-19 derailed the migration programs in place prior to the pandemic?
Canada. In 2019, Canada admitted 437,000 people, about 200,000 temporary residents like students, temporary workers and asylum seekers. It was part of the plan put out by Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino to increase immigration through 2022: from 341,000 this year to 351, 000 in 2021 and 361 in 2022.
With a loss of almost 2 million jobs and unemployment rate of 13 percent, and major industries hit by the pandemic, Canada’s pre-pandemic migration plan is now under serious review.
Mendocino “does not rule out the possibility that the immigrant admission numbers may be revised in November when the government is expected to announce new immigration targets.”
The immigrant selection system remains online, accepting and processing profiles of candidates in the Express Entry pool. There are three federal immigration programs being considered in the Express Entry selection: the Federal Skilled Worker program, the Federal Skilled Trades program and the Canadian Experience class.
The first two are open to skilled workers overseas. The Canadian Experience class on the other hand is accessible to applicants already in Canada, either as international student/graduates or temporary workers with at least one year of legal employment in the country.
The last draw held May 28, 2020 was exclusively for candidates under the Canadian Experience category. The selection resulted in 3,515 invitations for applicants with high-ranking scores to apply for permanent residency. The threshold score was 440.
Another Express Entry draw (under the limited slots for the provincial nomination) was held a day earlier, with 385 candidates invited to apply for residency. The threshold score was 757. Nomination by a province gets an Express Entry applicant 500 points.
The recent draws indicate that Canada is selecting from candidates in the Express Entry pool who are already in Canada.
Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced after a Cabinet meeting last week “that the government is expecting ‘quite significant falls’ in migration, being a 30 percent decrease in net migration this financial year from the 2018/19 totals, and an 85 percent decrease next financial year.”
The federal government’s migration intake is expected to be reduced by 85 percent because of the travel ban and Covid-19.
New Zealand. Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has good news and bad news for temporary and permanent migrant visa applicants.
While confirming the government’s policy not to revoke or extend visas or suspend onshore applications for the next 12 months, Lees-Galloway acknowledged a case processing backlog:
– 350,000 temporary visa holders onshore
– 200,000 plus work visas
– Over 70,000 student visas
– More than 56,000 visitor visas, who may need to have their expiry date extended if flights out of New Zealand continue to be unavailable
– Over 20,000 skilled migrant resident visa holders are onshore (where their residence start date was on or after April 27, 2018).
Like Canada, Australia and New Zealand both give preference to applicants who are already onshore as international student/graduates or temporary workers.
United Kingdom. From Jan. 1, 2021 when free movement between the UK and European Union (EU) ends, a new points-based immigration system treating EU and non-EU applicants equitably is scheduled to begin.
Points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points. To be considered, an applicant must have at least 70 points. Even with a job offer by an accredited employer, an English-proficient skilled worker does not stand a chance if either the annual salary is less than £23,040, or the applicant does not have the PhD degree required for the proposed employment.
United States. On April 23, 2020, US President Donald Trump issued a 60-day ban on all immigrant visa applicants. Not long after, the US Embassy here suspended visa processing till June 11.
Two months earlier, Trump ordered the enforcement of the public charge rule for immigrant visa applicants at consular posts abroad and green card applicants in the US.
These two orders resulted in the drastic reduction of visas issued at the US Embassy in Manila. Even those who are not covered by the annual quota (such as the spouse, minor children and parents of US citizens) experienced slow processing and suspension of processing.
State Department statistics before the public charge proclamation in February show that the US Embassy in Manila issued 545 visas to the immediate relatives of US citizens. In March, only 247 visas were issued. In April, only 15 immigrant visas were issued to the spouses, minor children and parents of US citizens, and five in the only-family preference category: F3 (married sons and daughters of US citizens).
Non-immigrant visa applicants suffered more. In February, 578,893 temporary visas were issued. In March, the number dropped by 178,390. In April, only 46,855 non-immigrant visas were issued worldwide.
Before the coronavirus, 193 United Nations member-states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants of 2016, recognizing the need for a “comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at the global level.”
Covid-19 struck first.
Instead of a comprehensive approach, each member-country had to adopt emergency measures to protect the health and security of its citizens.
These include border closures and travel bans. In the case of the US, President Trump moved a step further by issuing a 60-day immigration ban for all immigrant visa applicants.
Processing of permanent residency for skilled workers in Australia, New Zealand and Canada take an average of a year and a half to two years. Predicated on the expectation of governments and businesses that recovery would take two to three years, skilled works should focus on improving their scores towards permanent residency.
There are certain sectors in the migration destination-countries that could open up to sector-specific work visas such as those in health care, agrifood and seasonal agriculture.
Much would depend, however, on how the reopening and recovery continues. A second wave of a Covid-19 outbreak will drown the migration dreams of prospective migrants.
It has been recognized that disturbing the ecological balance such as intrusion of humans into the habitat of wild animals cause pandemics. Covid-19 apparently will not be the last.