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Urban opportunities

by Hans Dembowski
Migrant entrepreneurs can make a difference – both in their new home towns as well as in their country of origin. Brain drain in the health sector, however, remains a serious challenge.

Migrants tend to be enterprising people. Experts estimate that one in ten people who start a new business in Germany has history of migration. Often they are involved in fast-food restaurants, corner shops or other small-scale services. Their success is essential for the quality of life in urban neighbourhoods. After all, these businesses create jobs, generate income, cater to many different people, and galvanise social interaction, as Mokhtar Sotoudi points aus. Sotoudi advises foreign-born entrepreneurs on behalf of Technologie Centrum Hannover, a centre that was started by that city’s local government.

Sotoudi warns against underestimating migrants’ range of business activities, however. He admits that some of his clients are driven by need, unable to find formal employment. Other clients, however, have well-established livelihoods, but nonetheless strive to fulfil aspirations of an even better future.

Successful migrants also drive economic development in their countries of origin. According to data of German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), some 20 % of foreign direct investments made in Mexico depend on expats’ money. Of course, remittances are vital to other countries’ economies as well.

In this decade, development professionals have begun to agree that migration benefits sending countries. Before, however, their main concern was brain-drain, the migration-induced shortage of skilled staff in poor countries. And indeed, there still are such downsides to migration. Filipino health-care institutions, for instance, would need 30 000 more professionals than they currently employ, but some 150 000 nurses have left the country. That is what Brigitte Fahrenhorst of the Society for International Development reckons. Half of all Ghanaian physicians work abroad, she adds. As rich countries societies are ageing, moreover, their demand for health staff is likely to rise.

Development experts’ traditional response to this problem is to argue against migration. Hans Werner Mundt, an adviser to GTZ, does not agree, however. He stresses that, in most developing countries, the educated elites are interested in their relatives’ migration opportunities, and therefore cannot be expected to effectively curb brain-drain. He says it would make more sense for donors to invest in education facilities in developing countries, as there is obviously demand for the output of such institions, both domestically and internationally. He is also in favour of taxing skilled migrants in order to raise some of that money, Mundt added at a conference on urban migration affairs, which was organised by the Bonn-based Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) and GTZ in Berlin in September. (dem)