by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 5, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1442)
While Muslims reside in all parts of the world and make up nearly 25% of the global population, immigration and migration policies of most Muslim countries are quite archaic. They are unsuitable for the contemporary socio-economic order.
Even though immigration and migration are ingrained in Islam’s ethos and history from the very beginning, Muslim countries approach this vital issue on an ad-hoc basis, with a negative attitude, or by trying to mimic Western policies which do not apply to their socio-economic conditions.
Prior to amplifying on immigration and migration policies, it should be noted that for most Muslim countries it is not an urgent issue. Many of them cannot provide employment even for their own young population. Thus, opening doors widely or without proper planning can easily reduce the cost of unskilled labor, drive down wages and adversely affect people in the lower income bracket. Nevertheless, immigration policies cannot be swept under the rug with the unemployment argument. Unemployment will always be there; it cannot be used as an excuse to overlook other crucial policy areas.
With the rise of transportation and modern communication technologies, mobility of labor and finances are crucial aspects of a functioning state system. A fundamental factor in forming a coherent immigration and financial policy is to create a smooth procedure for inflow and outflow of money and people. The two are partly interlinked, as people bring money in and take it out.
Those who have lived in Muslim countries or travelled there, can share anecdotes about red tape which complicates travel, residency, and investment. In many Muslim countries these rules are the product of a corrupt political leadership which devises policies for personal enrichment. Even in countries with a public accountability system, policies on immigration lag behind the current times. This is because the state bureaucracy often views immigration and migration as a threat and an economic obstacle. Thus, the very first thing that needs to change is the outlook on immigration and migration phenomenon. It needs to be assessed in realistic terms within the local societal and economic context.
One of the greatest advantages which the Muslim Ummah possesses is its cosmopolitan and international character. There are Muslim experts in various fields in all parts of the world. These experts and professionals would gladly contribute to the development of Muslim societies out of Islamic duty and solidarity. The Ummatic vision and attachment of millions of ordinary Muslims makes them an excellent human capital to recruit for skilled and unskilled work across the Muslim world. However, this sense of Islamic solidarity is not utilized even minimally because many Muslim countries lack coherent policies on migration.
It is a bureaucratic nightmare for most Muslims to perform Hajj and Umrah these days, let alone settle in a Muslim country. It is easier for many Muslims to purchase a ticket and fly to Dubai for shopping than go for a two-day Umrah. This phenomenon highlights how deprioritized a coherent migration policy is.
The world will to continue to become a global village. Transportation and communication technologies will develop and spread. There is no escaping from this phenomenon. Even the centralization-oriented China realizes that its economic, social, and political future lies in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). That is, in expanding abroad economically and bringing in materials and people from outside. China became a powerful regional entity due to its outward looking policy, not because it shut itself from the outside world. The primary difference is that China is implementing the openness strategy on its own political, economic, and social terms. This needs to be learned from.
While most parts of the Muslim world provide young labor force to Western economies and societies which resolves the issue of aging, sustain their pension systems and declining population, Muslim countries do not have a coherent migration strategy of their own.
The issue of migration and immigration cannot be addressed without connecting it to taxation and education policies, especially vocational training. As more Muslim countries become logistical pillars of the BRI project, which is an infrastructure-centered plan, Muslim countries will require skilled builders, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and many other hands-on laborers. Building a skilled labor force should begin by improving vocational training policies and institutions. In many developing countries, governments simply assume that poor people in society can be easily turned into road builders, construction workers and drivers.
To establish long-lasting and high-quality bridges, ports and communication networks, those people building and setting them up must be properly trained. Recruiting workers on an ad-hoc basis from random walks of life and often from abroad is a band-aid solution. The malfunction of this solution can often be seen in the UAE, where poor farmers from South Asia are recruited as construction workers. While these randomly recruited and overworked laborers do manage to erect skyscrapers and roads, those who have lived in the UAE can attest to the poor quality of many of those glitzy looking towers.
There is minimal institutionalized educational infrastructure in training skilled construction workers, mechanics, or truck drivers. For this to start, Muslim countries will need to tap into the human capital of various countries to bring in the skilled workforce to establish professional vocational educational institutions. Without a coherent and non-bureaucratic system facilitating relocation, many potential migrants will be not be motivated to relocate. Moving to another country is challenging enough; when it gets entangled in massive red tape, it becomes a nightmare.
Today some Muslim countries that are affluent and have stronger passports, try to offer incentive to the rich to immigrate to their countries. Malaysia, Turkey, and the UAE are well-known examples for their investment scheme residency visas. Such schemes rarely increase economic productivity and almost never trickle down to the masses.
Migration policies in the Muslim world need to center around boosting vocational education and decreasing bureaucracy. If these two aspects are not taken as the foundational basis of policy, the Muslim world will remain in reactive mode. The modern trend is mobility and cross-broader transactions; migration is an integral part of it. Migration and immigration must, therefore, be addressed in a manner which accommodates current and future trends.