Rural migration

Abdul Bayes | Published: November 09, 2018 21:36:36

Mainly there are two types of migration - external and internal. Internal migration can be rural-rural or rural-urban. In recent years, rural-rural migration has diminished while others have increased. Until recently, migration was not considered as important a subject in academic or policy related discussions as it appears today. But, we now observe a growing intense interest in it in the on-going development discourse in Bangladesh. It is now widely accepted that migration has been making substantial contributions to our development. Next to Ready Made Garments (RMG), remittances from overseas workers have become a major source of foreign exchange earnings for the country. Another important development of recent years is that a number of women workers are migrating to other countries and the number has been increasing.

Most of the literature --particularly the content by Rita Afsar and T. Siddiqqui - argues that international migration serves the economy in two ways. First, it reduces unemployment and second, migration results in flows of remittances to the country which fuels the wheels of the economy by supplying much-needed foreign exchange. Some recent observations revealed that the continuous outflow of people of working age, and the accompanying inflow of remittances have played a major role in keeping the unemployment rate stable. Migration, therefore, eased the pressure on successive governments for the need for employment generation within the economy. A lion's share of the remitted money has been used to finance the import of much needed capital goods and raw materials for industrial development. It is estimated that, on an average, 25-30 per cent of the official import bill is financed by remittances. Further, the steady flow of remittances has resolved the foreign exchange crisis, improved the balance of payments, and helped increase the supply of national savings. By and large, if we take unofficial remittances into consideration, the contribution of remittances to GDP could be much higher than mentioned.

Academic discourse also abounds on internal migration or rural-urban migration. It is being argued that migration acts as a short-term relief in the livelihood strategy of the poor. The major reasons behind internal migration are looking for jobs, higher studies, and resettlement of households which are victims of river erosion. Researchers show that would-be migrants prefer to stay in villages at the primary stage, failing which they gradually move towards neighboring villages, and then travel to towns. At the beginning, they earn a living from wage employment and various non-farm activities but, once adapted to city life, look for informal sector jobs, such as rickshaw pulling, hawking, etc.

Despite an avalanche of studies on migration in Bangladesh, gaps in research still persist on three counts. First, available empirical works seem to have rarely been based on household level information, especially in rural areas. Some of the studies are location-specific or census-based rather than drawn from large-scale household surveys. As such, many of the dynamics of migration are missing in current literature. Second, very few studies capture the inter-temporal variations in the rate of migration. And finally, existing studies failed to base the determinants of migration, both internal and external, on sound statistical footing. Therefore, we have attempted to explain the dynamics of migration based on household-level data.

As mentioned previously, one third of rural households have at least one migrated member (internal: about 20 per cent, foreign: about 13 per cent) in the recent survey. The share of households with foreign migrants has doubled from 2,000, but that of within district has not. Earlier, oversees migrants used to originate from better-off economic groups, but, over time, members have been moving out from the medium and small landholding groups.

As a livelihood strategy, migration is increasingly coming to the forefront of academic and policy discussions. In developing countries, migration is crowned as the linchpin of the economic wheel. There may be room for considerable debate about different dimensions of migration but, "migration is an essential, inevitable and potentially beneficial component of the economic and social life of every state and every region". Available studies emphatically show how remittances from abroad have played pivotal roles in domestic resource mobilisation of recipient countries. Migration within a region takes a variety of forms: students attending colleges and universities relocate to towns and cities, women moving to husbands' families at a distant location, temporary rural to rural migration in response to spatial variation in cropping patterns, and seasonal demand for labour, etc. But, of late, migration for economic reasons, and particularly rural-urban and foreign migration, has assumed new heights. Although we started our study with a focus on international migration, we realised that migration may also be internal, such as within different regions of the same state.

Whether internal or external, the reasons for migration are almost the same. First, it could be due to employment opportunities and wage-gap across space among geographic locations. It is also for this wage difference that many Bangladeshis are risking their lives to go to the Middle East, Europe, Malaysia, or other countries. Second, labour demand has increased in some countries in tandem with high economic growth. As economic theory suggests, shortage of labour pushes up its price or the wage rate leading in turn to a rise in commodity prices. For this reason, the country is likely to face erosion in comparative advantage, making it difficult for it to survive in the world market. On the other hand, the price of labour is likely to remain low in a labour-surplus economy. Therefore, it is quite natural that labour will move from the surplus to the deficit areas until the wage gap is reduced to a reasonable level (i.e., reflecting cost and risk associated with migration).  Within the country migration (internal migration) is also taking place due to wage differential between agriculture and non-farm sector.

Most people leave their homes for economic reasons except when migration takes place to escape political or religious persecution or simply to fulfil personal dreams. However, our overall discussion will focus on migration for economic reasons, namely economic migration. Some experts on migration adduce two factors to economic migration: (1) "push" factors that force people to leave villages in the wake of economic stagnation or crisis; and (2) "pull" factors that lure people to leave home in the face of opportunities created by economic growth. In fact, push factors tend to prevail in a regime of widespread unemployment, lack of farmland, famine, or war. In this condition, people desperately hunt for ways to go to other places for physical and economic safety. The Great Depression (1929-39) was a classic case of a push factor.

The government should see that the cost of migration is within affordable limit. Allegations are there that a handful of recruiting agencies monopolise the business and charge five to six times more than the rate from migrants who generally come from poor segment of society. The government should also see that especially women workers are secured outside and get due wages. The precarious conditions of migrants, coming back or leaving, show that we want the golden eggs but not the goose. This is a pitiable condition.

Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.

Share if you like