Regularizing and Decriminalizing the Movement of People

130 people from Ghana, Eritrea, and Somalia, including pregnant women and children, drowned off the coast of Italy (October, 2013) when the boat in which they were traveling caught fire and capsized. The boat left from Tripoli, Libya with about 500 persons attempting to reach Italy and enter the European Union. This route each year claims thousands of lives.  The death toll from this latest incident will only rise as at least another 100 passengers are missing. These tragedies happen around the world because, as the barriers to the movement of goods and some services have fallen, those facing people who merely seek the opportunity for a decent life continue to go up.

Labor or Economic Migration          

Whether fleeing political persecution or economic instability, most migrants seek the opportunity to live a normal life, earn a decent wage and support their families. Economic or labor migrants are motivated primarily by the search for employment. The irony is that, if given the opportunity to come and go legally for work, many would do so. Instead, they are forced to become “illegal migrants”.

Whether its Africans trying to make it to Europe or Central Americans and Haitians trying to make it to the United States, the

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

barriers they face force hundreds of thousands of migrants to place themselves at physical risk. They rely on smugglers who provide passage using overcrowded leaky boats or airless trucks. Women and girls run the risk of being sold into prostitution and slavery. Those who make it to their destination may end up living and working in sub-standard conditions and in enforced separation from their families.

Yet, as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports:

. . . when properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers.

The IOM further reports that, in 2011, there were 105 million persons working in a country in which they were not born, generating income of US $440 billion. The money they sent back to support their families – remittances – was around US$ 350 billion.

Trade Rules & Migration

The WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) identifies four delivery modes for services trade; Mode 4 is the movement of natural persons as service suppliers. GATS and other trade agreements that provide for free movement of persons focus almost exclusively on the movement of professionals and skilled workers. Trade rules generally ignore and marginalize the low-skilled or unlicensed service providers. As a result, their migration is considered illegal.

Yet their services are no less in demand. They are the ones who migrate to pick fruit, mow lawns, clean homes, and care for children and the elderly. Until this discrepancy is addressed and policies and rules put in place to support the free movement of skilled and low-skilled service providers, tragedies like the ones in the Mediterranean will, unfortunately, continue to occur.

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