Perth, Australia

How Bhutanese migration will drive more migration

And international theories of migration applicable to Bhutan

In our current thinking of the migration issue we assume that people move simply to earn more money or due to local factors like unemployment, red tape etc but migration is an outcome of far more complex decisions.

With the large levels of migration from Bhutan the act of migration itself, the migration infrastructure and the other changes induced by migrations are becoming major causes of migration by itself.

Also, an extensive study of the various theories of international migration show that they are all applicable in some way or the other to the Bhutanese context.

Work by Jorgen Carling has shown that it is just not about the conditions or main causes like poverty etc but there must be a desire to change this which produces migration aspirations.

But this is still not enough as migration ability and infrastructure is required for successful migration.

Apart from the below there are more Bhutan specific reasons for migration in this link here on page 1.

Network Theory

Work by Hugo, Taylor, Massey, Garcia, Gurak and Caces shows that while migration starts with certain causes in time migration itself starts becoming a cause of more migration.

This is the ‘Network theory’ which says that migrant networks are built on interpersonal ties that connect migrants, former migrants, and non-migrants in origin and destination areas through ties of kinship, friendship, and shared community origin.

It says this increases the likelihood of international movement because they lower the costs and risks of movement and increase the expected net returns to migration. Network connections constitute a form of social capital that people can draw upon to gain access to foreign employment. Once the number of migrants reaches a critical threshold, it reduces the costs and risks of movement, which causes the probability of migration to rise, which causes additional movement, which further expands the networks, and so on.

This makes sense in the Bhutanese context as the data shows that migration to Australia started from even before democracy with small numbers that gradually went up over time and the exploded in recent times.

Migration is made easier by Bhutanese relatives or friends who are already in Australia and help with a place to stay, information, job hunting, flat hunting and even fees. 

This theory says that once begun, international migration tends to expand over time until network connections have diffused so widely in a sending region that when all people who wish to migrate can do so without difficulty; then migration begins to decelerate.

It says the size of the migratory flow between two countries is not strongly correlated to wage differentials or employment rates, because whatever effects these variables have in promoting or inhibiting migration are progressively overshadowed by the falling costs and risks of movement stemming from the growth of migrant networks over time.

Governments can expect to have great difficulty controlling flows once they have begun, because the process of network formation lies largely outside their control and occurs no matter what policy is pursued.

Institutional Theory

Under the ‘Institutional Theory’ linked to the above as organizations develop to support, sustain, and promote international movement, the international flow of migrants becomes more and more institutionalized and independent of the factors that originally caused it.

This applies in the Bhutanese context in terms of the numbers of educational consultancies that entice and send youth to Australia and the labour agents that send youth to the middle-east.

It also applies to the visa office in town that makes it easier to get a visa to Australia and banks that offer education loans. Various Associations of Bhutanese in Australia that also helps Bhutanese migrants is another example.

Cumulative Causation

In addition to the growth of networks and the development of migrant supporting institutions, international migration sustains itself in other ways that make additional movement progressively more likely over time, a process Myrdal (1957) called ‘Cumulative Causation’ (Massey, 1990).

Before anyone has migrated from a community, income inequality within most poor, rural settings is not great because nearly all families live close to the subsistence level.

Seeing some families vastly improve their income through migration makes families lower in the income distribution feel relatively deprived, inducing some of them to migrate, which further exacerbates income inequality and migration.

An important spending target for migrants from rural communities is the purchase of land.

The more outmigration, the more people have access to the funds necessary to buy land, leading to additional purchases by migrants and more land withdrawn from production, creating still more pressure for outmigration.

This makes sense in the Bhutanese context as the initial aim of most Bhutanese migrating out was to buy land and make a building back home which jacked up land prices and encouraged more migration.

As migration grows in prevalence within a community, it changes values and cultural perceptions in ways that increase the probability of future migration.

For young men, and in many settings young women as well, migration becomes a rite of passage, and those who do not attempt to elevate their status through international movement are considered ‘lazy’, ‘unenterprising’, and ‘undesirable’ (Reichert, 1982).

This is already happening in Bhutan as professionals and young graduates who do not migrate are starting to face enormous peer pressure and are even being considered not as capable as those who migrate.

Migration is a selective process that tends, initially at least, to draw relatively well-educated, skilled, productive, and highly motivated people away from sending communities

Sustained outmigration thus leads to the depletion of human capital in sending regions and its accumulation in receiving areas, enhancing the productivity of the latter while lowering that of the former.

Over time, therefore, the accumulation of human capital reinforces economic growth in receiving areas while its simultaneous depletion in sending areas exacerbates their stagnation, thereby further enhancing the conditions for migration (Myrdal, Greenwood, Hunt, and McDowell).

In the Bhutanese context this is starting to happen as the local economy is already taking a massive hit due to insufficient local customers and so these business owners or workers in turn are migrating to improve their prospects.

Within receiving societies, once immigrants have been recruited into particular occupations in significant numbers, those jobs become culturally labeled as “immigrant jobs” and native workers are reluctant to fill them, reinforcing the structural demand for immigrants.

In Australia Bhutanese immigrants take jobs that local Australians won’t do and these are cleaning, care giver for the old and disabled, kitchen help etc.

Many causes and theories of migration and how they apply to Bhutan

It is important to study the many theories of international migration because they are all applicable to Bhutan at different levels.

Work by Massey and et al (1993) examined various theories of migration.

One theory is the ‘Neoclassical economics: Macro theory’ where international migration of workers is caused by differences in wage rates between countries.

In the ‘Neoclassical economics: Micro theory’ individual rational actors decide to migrate because a cost-benefit calculation leads them to expect a positive net return, usually monetary, from movement. This requires both investment from them and also making sacrifices.

The ‘New economics of migration theory’ challenges the Neoclassical economics theory and says migration decisions are not made by isolated individual actors, but by larger units of related people– typically families or households-in which people act collectively not only to maximize expected income, but also to minimize risks and to loosen constraints associated with a variety of market failures like lack of adequate retirement pensions and hence the need for the young to take care of their old parents.

Another example it gives is that in poor countries funds to enhance productivity may also be difficult to borrow because the family lacks collateral to qualify for a loan and so the only real access to borrowing is often from local moneylenders who charge high interest rates.

Under these circumstances, migration again becomes attractive as an alternative source of capital.

The ‘Dual labor market theory’ by Piore (1979) says immigration is not caused by push factors in sending countries like low wages or high unemployment, but by pull factors in receiving countries like a chronic and unavoidable need for foreign workers.

Piore says that at one point the low wage jobs in developed countries were fulfilled by women and teenagers but this is no longer possible as women are more equal participants in the workforce and have moved up the ladder while a lower birth rate meant there are not enough teenagers for that work.

Employers are also unable to raise wages at the bottom of the ladder as others above will also demand higher pay and so the best option is cheaper immigrants.

He says locals take the higher skilled jobs and they do not take the lower end jobs due to a job hierarchy and lower pay.

Given the higher earnings than compared to back home the immigrants readily take these jobs and given the prestige of the money they earn and the assets they acquire back home their hierarchy does not suffer.

The ‘World Systems Theory’ builds on the work of Wallerstein (1974) which says migration is a natural consequence of capitalist market formation in the developing world; the penetration of the global economy into peripheral regions is the catalyst for international movement. The international flow of labor follows the international flow of goods and capital, but in the opposite direction.

International migration is especially likely between past colonial powers and their former colonies, because of cultural, linguistic, administrative, investment, transportation, and communication links. A good example would be India and Pakistan the large migrant Indian and Pakistani community in Britain. Another would be French speaking migrants from former French colonies in Africa moving to France.

While Bhutan was never colonized our decision to use the language of the British colonizers in India as the medium of instruction has made migration easier.

The above and more show that migration in Bhutan like elsewhere is not due one or two causes, but several factors and some it has to do with external factors.

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