Migration: All that glitters may not be gold | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 03, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:54 AM, December 03, 2020


Migration: All that glitters may not be gold


In 1970, John Harris and Michael Todaro asked a simple question: why do people migrate from villages to cities? Their answer pioneered migration models in economics. They argued, the decision to migrate is influenced by differences in expected incomebetween the village and the city.

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Excluding visa lotteries, young highly educated people leave Bangladesh on their own choice mainly for two reasons: either for higher studies or to join their spouses. Today, young people are going abroad more than any time in our history. What's interesting is: what happens after they go abroad? The italicized expected will pop-up when needed.


A and B are two friends who are going to Australia. A's going for higher studies at the University of Sydney. B's going to join her spouse, a Bangladeshi-Australian.

After finishing studies, A asks himself: What life can I expect in Oz compared to back home in Bangladesh? After careful inspection, A decides to apply for PR. Oz needs IT people, and A did very well in IT from their oldest university.

B has come to Oz to stay with her spouse. She has three options: become a home-maker; search for a job that has vacations so she has time for family; or join the fast lane.

A convinces B to join the IT sector. B's graduation from Bangladesh isn't in IT. Seeing the signals from the IT market, B decides to take training and become an IT specialist. A and B both expected they'd be better off.


Remember John Lennon's Beautiful Boy? Remember "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"? Well, fifteen years have passed in the twinkle of an eye for A and B. Both of them established themselves in IT in Oz. There's a twist coming, if you didn't sense.

 A and B are both in their mid-forties now. The IT market in Oz is oversaturated. One of the beasts of flexible labour markets is: what can hire quick, can fire quicker. The economy is hit by a financial crash like the one in 2008. Like a house of cards, A and B see their life crumble. Both become unemployed.

These events have happened in the past. Why can't they happen again?


Expected income wasn't a good analysis of migration. What we expect may not turn out to be what lasts. Models in economics notoriously overlook time and/or space. The decision to migrate was isolated to a one time-period, when the decision was made. It wasn't spread over time. No science is complete. Let's move away from economics.

A fairy told me, one of the two friends joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. While climbing the ladders of the IT world, that friend was making podcasts on music, art and even the Ashes for fun. One morning, the editor of ABC Jazz called: "We loved your podcast series on Miles Davis. Would you like to work with us?"

The other friend, the fairy told me, invested all their time and effort in their career, and nothing else. When that friend got the golden handshake, life crumbled as if in the quicksand of western Tasmania.

That friend would have been better off not migrating.


The pandemic has been a wakeup call, everywhere. Fortunes can vanish very quickly. Falling down in life isn't a problem. Standing up again is the challenge. If you're thinking of migrating, saying goodbye to your homestead -- think twice. Having and nurturing a second skill after your profession could be the difference between survival and being blown into oblivion.

Asrar Chowdhury teaches economics in classrooms. Outside, he watches Test cricket, plays the flute and listens to music and radio podcasts. Email: asrarul@juniv.edu or asrarul@gmail.com


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