Experts urge study on social remittances’ impact on global migration

LAHORE:  The Centre on Migration, Remittances and Diaspora (CIMRAD), Lahore School of Economics organized first of its kind international conference on ‘Social Remittances and Social Change: Links between Home and Host Countries” on February 21 and 22, 2023 at the Lahore School’s Burki Campus.

Doctor Peggy Levitt, renowned sociologist and pioneer of the term ‘social remittances’ was the keynote speaker at the event whereas Dr. Ishrat Hussain, former Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity shared his comments as the Chief Guest at the opening of the conference. Dr. Shahid Amjad Chahudhry, Rector, Lahore School of Economics gave the welcome address. 

The two-day event was organized into two sessions per day, where international participants presented their papers, followed by an in-depth discussion and feedback from renowned migration researchers and experts.     

The conference proceedings offered an insight into and stimulated thoughts about how the global society is transforming, as nation-state geographical borders continue to blur overtime. It brought into discussion implications for home country politics, improvements in demographic variables and women empowerment. It also raised a key question for future considerations of social remittances in terms of climate induced migration. As a future line of research, it was proposed during a brainstorming session to conduct country comparative case studies in different migration contexts to better understand the complex issue of social remittances. 

Dr. Peggy Levitt, Chair of Sociology Department, Wellesley College, US, in her keynote address talked about cultural globalization and the role of technological advancements. Having studied migrant communities in Boston from Brazil, Ireland, Pakistan, and India, she reflected that for migrants over time, there is a growing disjuncture between how they perceive their home country and how it may have actually evolved. She termed it the “ossification effect”, where the home country is “frozen in time” in the migrants’ minds, while actually it has changed rapidly. 

Dr. Ishrat Hussain in his comments emphasized that as a developing country, Pakistan based research in any field must link with the implications for poverty alleviation and human development. Weighing in on the recently re-emerged brain drain debate from Pakistan, he asserted it was an opportunity for Pakistani migrants to acquire new skills from host markets. Besides technical skills, social remittances in form of efficiency enhancing practices, principles and values can also contribute to increasing productivity of our local market and can even be exported to other migration destinations. 

Dr. Philippe Fargues, Founding Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute, Italy, argued that international migration and reduction in fertility are inseparable parts of social change and human development. Where country-level socio-economic indicators fail to establish this relationship, the non-tangible remittances in forms of ideas with family and friends in the home country can explain the phenomenon better. Pakistan’s population is growing at a worrisome rate of 2.4% annually and it has a current total fertility rate of 3.6, putting a strain on our limited economic resources. Implications of social remittances to bring down fertility rate are worth exploring from a policy point of view. 

Dr. Anne White, Professor at University College London School, UK, discussed how social remittances impact the migration process itself. When migrants interact with other migrants in the host country, the exchange ideas have the potential to transform the ways migration takes places, such as an inclination towards personal networking instead of through employment agencies. This could make the process even less formal in developing countries.   

Presentations by Dr. Bilesha Weeraratne, Head of Migration and Urbanization Policy Research at the Institute of Policy Studies, Sri Lanka and Mr. Froilan Malit, Jr., Ph.D Politics candidate at the University of Glasgow, UK, brought attention to the role of social media and technology in the transfer of social remittances to home countries. 

Dr. Malit discussed the case of Filipino diaspora in the Gulf countries on use of digital technology to impact the domestic electoral outcomes, and how their political preferences are impacted by the governance system in host countries. The study had significant relevance for Pakistan given our diaspora’s active participation in Pakistan’s recent political landscape; campaigning for change and a welfare based democratic independent system, similar to the Western countries, where around 3 million mostly high skilled Pakistan’s reside. 

Dr. Philip Martin, Professor Emeritus at the University of California-Davis, US and Mr. Manolo Abella, former Director, ILO discussed types of social remittances that arise from low skilled labour migration to higher wage countries. The analysis suggested that aspiration of improving their economic position at home leads migrants to increasing their investment in housing and land in their home countries, as well as the sense of improved well-being of families makes them invest in health and education.

Search for better facilities also results in rural to urban migration. In Pakistan, where 53% of migrants in the last decade (and even before) have been low skilled, these proposed outcomes have consequences for management of our economy, provision of better basic health and education facilities and the need for planning to accommodate influx of internal migrants to urban cities. 

Dr. Rashid Amjad, Director Graduate Institute of Development Studies and CIMRAD, in his concluding remarks stated that economic analysis dominates the research field and there emphasis on quantification and measurement, however this framework is limited in its ability to incorporate the nuances of social life, that are more challenging to quantify. The academic community from different areas of research must come together to explore methodological innovations in research on social remittances.

Shahab Omer
Shahab Omer
The writer is a member of the staff and can be reached on [email protected]

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