Migrants are critical for many low and middle-income countries like Nepal, El Salvador and Tonga where remittances comprise between 15 to 40% of annual GDP.
Our research using detailed microdata shows that declining trends in 2020 remittances, had a considerable impact on food security and income of migrant-dependent households. This makes migrants especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings strongly support the case for supporting migrant households as part of countries’ COVID-19 recovery policies.
COVID-19 exacerbates challenges for returnee migrants
Since countries rushed to close international borders and restrict domestic mobility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in April 2020, migrants have been front and center of the crises. Initial onset of mobility restrictions combined with economic shutdown created havoc amongst migrant communities globally. Increased crackdown on undocumented migrants, hotspots in crowded detention centers, and other factors, forced many migrants to return to their countries of origin. Unfortunately, economic and health conditions are equally dire for migrants and their households. Circumstances were further exacerbated by migrants who inadvertently brought the disease back with them.
Studies conducted by Yale-RISE and Innovations for Poverty Action show that earnings among migrant households declined by more than 25% while food insecurity was fourfold compared to non-migrant households since March 2020. These differences are attributed to lower migration rates, less remittance income per migrant, isolation in origin communities, and greater health risks. Households with migrants are twice as likely to report experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The findings are based on a comparison of pre- and post-COVID-19 panel datasets for three populations in Bangladesh and Nepal.
One of the population sub-sets comprising Bangladeshi households that won a visa lottery to migrate internationally in 2013 experienced sharper drops in income in May 2020 after the COVID-19 lockdown compared to lottery-losers (Figure 1-A). The negative welfare impact is also reflected amongst another population of migrant-dependent households in rural Bangladesh. This group experienced food insecurity in April 2020 that exceeded the levels observed during typical agricultural lean seasons in prior years (Figure 1-C).
Similar trends are observed in another set of migrant households in Western Terai, Nepal (Figure 1-B and 1-D).