As the COVID-19 pandemic continue affecting our lives, it is hard to see any reason for celebration, especially when migrant workers endure the suffering from the losses and hardship ranging from jobs to lives around the world. If on one hand societies discovered the value and contribution of essential workers (ie. agricultural, care, and service workers) comprised in large numbers by migrant workers, it’s the image of health-care workers and professionals, many of whom are women on the move that will stay with many of us for years to come. But images and numbers alone do not tell the story.
It is too early to assess the impact of the pandemic on high-skilled migration but it is likely that the upward trend and focus on health care workers will remain post-crisis, especially in countries where demographic concerns over an aging population are high. Unlike, professionals whose tasks may be performed remotely (e.g., IT and management), most health care work still demands presence, stability, and a range of “soft” skills within a multicultural and multilingual setting (skills that are anything but soft!). Therefore, health care professionals will continue to be one of the most significant groups of mobile high-skilled for years to come, alongside a host of care workers. Despite the essential services performed by this group, it is relevant to highlight that we have a prevailing knowledge gap regarding their experiences, including opportunities and adversities in the labour market, prospects for career advancement, challenges on family reunification and work-life balance. 2020 has been a “wake-up-call” year for many, so hopefully from now on greater attention will be given to the experiences of health care workers and professionals, leading to a more comprehensive picture of their lives, stories, aspirations, and hopes in the migration/intra-regional mobility path.
We are aware that women’s’ contribution has been made too many times invisible in history, alongside the picture of the “silent martyr”. Human beings learn most through stories, including stories that surprise and confront our assumptions, that illustrate courage in the face of adversity, and stories that are filled with experiences and purpose. In oral history and literature, we recognize the value of storytelling, so as we face what feels like a major transition, perhaps qualitative research should be giving a greater role in the storytelling of migration enabling the voices and agency of migrants to be amplified. Qualitative research and a more inclusive narrative may also pave the way to a broader vision and greater potential outcome on what constitutes a “win-win for all”. Policy and programmatic activities affecting the lives of migrant workers, as well as countries of origin and destination cannot be void of evidence which is inclusive, multidisciplinary, and diverse, starting with research efforts and partnerships. The EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion (2012-27) affirms “Above a quarter of migrants [in the EU] are highly educated. They offer resources, ambition, and motivation but they often are not able to put their skills to use. Almost 40% are overqualified for the job they do. We cannot afford to waste this potential.” The EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion,also calls for more involvement and co-creation with migrants, so perhaps one is to consider having migrant health-care professionals and workers involved in discussions and decision-making process on matters of public health (I wonder how many COVID-Task Forces included the representation of migrant healthcare workers in their proceedings?). In the “new normal” it is not enough to serve, we also want to participate and co-create as part of a community-building effort aimed at a more equal, resilient, and thriving society.
Joyful International Migrants Day to all, and once again a special THANKS to the health care migrant workers and professionals. May you and your loved ones be healthy and well-taken care of.