What Covid-19 portends for future of immigration

Thursday, May 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Coronavirus effects. Photo/COURTESY

George Mucee

Travelling within and across the national borders has not only become a tedious affair but also very complex thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to various aviation and travel analysts, more than 16,000 passenger jets out of about 24,000 jets globally, are grounded.

This is about 67 per cent of the entire world passenger planes. Pictures of parked planes at various airports globally are all over the internet with aviation experts saying it is costing an arm and leg to park and maintain these grounded carriers. What this means is that the world is at a near standstill.

About two thirds of the world population is on lockdown and unable to move around easily.

In this era of globalisation where one can travel across the world in less than 72 hours, this is unfathomable.

Countries that would ordinarily be grappling with influx of migrants into their territories are themselves grappling with the lockdown even within their borders and praying that the coronavirus ends sooner. 

What does the Covid-19 pandemic portend for migration governance globally? Since 9/11, many countries have been dealing with immigration and international travel majorly from two perspectives—national security and job protection for their citizens.

After 9/11, the world changed a lot in terms of cross-border movement of people, with increasing visa restrictions, security screening at all airports and even inflight rules.

Waving bays which were popular in airports not too long ago are now a thing of the past.

Getting into airports is now characterized by layers of security screening. 

For the one third of the world population who are still able to move around amid the coronavirus crisis, they are doing so with immense caution and restrictions.

Governments have suspended international travel to reduce the risks of transmission. This is at the expense of their economies. 

Ordinarily, the Department of Immigration rakes in over Sh1 Billion in visa, passes and permits fees charged to foreign nationals visiting or working in Kenya. It will be a huge achievement if they manage even a quarter of that in 2020.

As the world starts to get out of the coronavirus paralysis, all governments are prioritizing public health by allowing international travel to and out of their countries but on condition that passengers are tested and cleared of Covid-19.

Most airlines are making arrangements with hospitals to do rapid testing of all passengers before allowing them to travel while carriers like Emirates are mulling quick pre-boarding tests that can be done in less than 30 minutes as part of the normal checking in procedures. 

While this is temporal, the ramifications of Covid-19 to immigration and global mobility will be with us for a long time and could usher in new ways of managing immigration.

Even as many government offices remain closed or scaled down in operations, the question around embracing technology in offering services to the public is now more pertinent than ever.

Kenya Immigration, for instance, now allows foreign nationals to extend their visas online without the need for them to go to Nyayo House or other offices across the country to have an endorsement in their passports.

As a strong proponent of online immigration services, I hope the lessons from Covid-19 will see Immigration Directorate automate most of their services.

While it will not be surprising to see some countries imposing travel restrictions to and from certain destinations even long after Covid-19, it behooves the governments of the world to anticipate new ways of governing immigration and global mobility.

Ordinarily, migrants are blamed during pandemics as was the cases in 1890s in New York where Jews were singled out for blame over typus and cholera outbreak as Chinese migrants were blamed for smallpox and bubonic plague.

However, it is especially important for nations to appreciate that we all have common public health destinies due to a highly globalised arena and therefore need to have a more coordinated approach to tackling these issues. —The writer is Immigration Consultant and Practice Leader at Fragomen Kenya

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