The rollout of mass vaccination programs for COVID-19 across the world is, of course, a real source of hope and optimism. The last year has been tough for everyone. And now we can all see a way forward. As we look to the future, attention is turning to how we restart economies as a result of lockdowns and other restrictions.

Getting the economy going again, after what has been for many a lengthy period of declining activity, is a big challenge. One of the major drivers of economic revival will be migration and travel. Countries compete to attract tourists, students, the right talent as well as individuals and businesses to come and live and work. Right across the world, and in fact throughout history, migrants have played a vital economic role.

During the pandemic, some countries have simply closed their borders to all migration. Others have severely restricted travel. But now, as they think about reopening, they will need to consider several factors as they design policies to attract talent, travellers, and investment, while keeping citizens safe. One key component of those policies will be how they provide conditions of entry (aka visas) that permit entry for different purposes.

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Woman in airport.

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Local policies, global competition

Many sectors rely on a flow of medium- to long-term migrants. Education is a case in point. It’s a major economic contributor for many countries and therefore a highly competitive sector. Student visas that impose very strict conditions may dissuade some potential learners from applying, resulting in a loss of income for both the education institution and the economy of the host country. The countries that can be more accommodating to students from overseas will reap the benefits over the short term, and perhaps the longer term, if a student’s eligible to remain in the country thanks to their educational achievements or skills qualifications. 

Traditionally industries like agriculture and other labour-intensive sectors rely on a flow of migrant workers to fill gaps in the labour force. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a reduction in the movement of people and workers across borders, which in turn has given rise to concerns across some countries and industries about the availability of seasonal migrant workers. Those shortages could lead to crops being unharvested, damaging some national economies.

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Governments have to offer attractive conditions to compete for talent, as well as maintain public confidence that new arrivals will not introduce greater risks to safety. 

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Safety-first

Safety-first is likely to be a principle for all countries as they consider reopening their borders. And here there are short- and long-term considerations for governments’ decision-making as they weigh up the possible options. Requiring tourists to quarantine on arrival for two weeks, for example, is obviously impractical as it effectively puts them off travelling in the first place. So, for short-term visits, ensuring that a visitor has been vaccinated with a vaccine that’s recognised by the relevant country could be included in the visa application process.  That will need a flow of information, from application to entry, that accompanies every traveller’s journey. Cooperation between governments will be essential. And digital solutions, like World ID for Travel, offer a platform that could help integrate the relevant information they’ll need.

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Finding a balance

But safety can be balanced with the need to attract the talent that can help countries kick-start economic growth. And it’s a highly competitive global marketplace. Erect barriers that are too high, or impose conditions that are too onerous, and talent will end up looking elsewhere. So as governments shape their visa policies, they must calibrate safety and economic factors. They have to offer attractive conditions to compete for talent, as well as maintain public confidence that new arrivals will not introduce greater risks to safety.

As attention turns to rebuilding, travel restarts and countries decide when and how to reopen their borders, all governments will have to balance public health requirements with their drive towards economic recovery and restarting travel safely and securely. The right visa policies will be a key tool to enable them to successfully address those concerns.

How do you think that governments can achieve the balance between economic recovery and safety? Share your views with me.

Read more posts by Gerco Landman:

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Trust is the key that will turn travel back on
From the point of departure to the point of entry, travel has to be trusted.
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Trust is the medicine to restore travel to health
Governments have a role to play in enabling the security and reliability of identity and health data.
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Gerco Landman

Senior Manager – Consulting, Public Service, Australia & New Zealand

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