The COVID-19 crisis is profoundly changing global migration:
1. Migrant labor has ceased
2. Global inequality is increasing
3. Restrictions may become permanent
4. Forced migrants are unable to move
5. Global migration goes into the shadows
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By Erol Yayboke
March 25, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed human mobility for those of us washing our hands vigorously and avoiding social contact. But in addition to these disruptions to daily life, the pandemic could be fundamentally changing the face of global migration in at least five key ways.
As I write this from a corner of my daughter’s room which has been converted into a makeshift home office, odds are you are also reading this from your home—if you are fortunate enough to have access to the internet at home and the option to work remotely. Schools and restaurants are closed. Airports and bus terminals are next. Only when people have stopped moving do we realize how much freedom of movement—the ability to visit a neighbor, to catch the train to work, to see a movie in the theater, or to fly across the world to see family—is a fundamental part of the human experience.
COVID-19 has brought most of the world to a halt. It has ushered in an entirely new human experience full of hand soap and Zoom. But it has also fundamentally altered global human mobility. After 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration shutdown airspace across the United States, and within hours almost all aircraft were grounded. Iconic time-lapse maps appeared soon thereafter showing once crowded skies becoming almost instantaneously empty. This is akin to what is happening to human mobility across the globe.
Much has been made of the important health and economic implications of COVID-19 that could linger well after workers return to work and travelers start traveling again. But the current global cessation of movement is unprecedented in modern times. Some are comparing the current pandemic to the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918, but from one important perspective the two pandemics differ greatly: the face of global migration was much different in the wake of WWI than in 2020. Thus, COVID-19 is likely to have lasting migration implications long after people, health systems, and the economy bounce back.