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18 August, 2017



Ghana’s migration history is both dynamic and complex, and rooted in historical antecedents. The country has a long history and tradition of population mobility. Trade routes from the mainly agriculture production middle belts to the coastal communities, and the pre and post-colonial rural-urban migratory trends goes to confirm the propensity to migrate.

What can be considered mass emigration and its attendant foreign settler communities is, however, a post-independence development and highly linked to the human quest for psychological and material improvement. This is parallel to the effect that “throughout human history migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life” (UN, 2006).

With a reported 150million people working outside their country of origin according to the ILO in 2013, the IOM posted a $440b earning from migrant workers in 2011. Thus, while home country job creation is a preferred option, globalisation and its structural demographic and socioeconomic realignment, means people are increasingly looking beyond their national borders in search of decent jobs that promise improved livelihoods (Amir, 1998). For instance, in the past 25yrs (since the fall of communism), the BBC reports that 1 in 5 of Lithuanians have migrated. Economic migration has become an integral part of the world order.

In sending countries, labour migration, regulated or not, provides a surreal opportunity to ease the unemployment valve whilst labour shortfalls in receiving countries are compensated for (foreigners are 71% of UAE, 64% of Singapore and 13% of the USA, with Libya’s 7.8% before crisis comparable to the largest European receiving states).

Apart from the increasing wage differentials, the glorification of living conditions resulting in higher life expectancy in the developed economies serve as one of the pull factors. According to Sassen (1988), global cities are based on dual economies, where the luxury consumption needs of elites create demand for low-skilled workers for construction, garment manufacture, food processing and service industries. In effect, the decreasing fertility rates in the OECD area plus the ageing population manifested in the adjustments in retirement ages in the larger economies of the EU is a clear demonstration that the services of migrant workers of all kinds shall be of increasing need to sustain the dual economies so established.

In Ghana, Manuh et al., (2005) have found, unenviably, a country with the most cumulative loss of tertiary-educated emigrants, with more than 56 per cent of doctors and 24 per cent of nurses trained in Ghana working abroad (Clemens and Pettersson, 2006). According to the EU (2006), only 3 per cent of Ghanaian emigrants have no skills. The fact that immigration policy favours high-skilled applicants means that illegal workers are most often of the low or non-skilled working category (Chiswick, 2001). The movement of irregular Diasporas within the international global economy has been a major issue of increasing concern to sending countries.

The unregulated recruitment agencies, motivated by the absence of an amalgamated labour policy, have triggered a major black market recruitment of domestic workers from rural Ghana to the Gulf countries. The horrible narratives from returnees call for an urgent need for regulation of recruitment agencies. In some instances, migrant workers mobility and freedoms are restricted by the retention of their passports. An example is the Kafalasystem across the Arab Gulf countries, which warrants an employer’s permission to switch jobs. Women who account for almost half of migrant workers around the world are the most vulnerable (Black, R., et al. 2003).

At the domestic policy level, it is worth appreciating the diversity of the Diaspora. Suffice to say, returning Diasporas concerns must assume an integral part of Ghana’s migration management and diaspora mobilisation efforts. The signing of Bilateral Agreements on pensions portability shall go a long way to trigger a reduction in the over $50billion reported migrants savings abroad, injecting some estimated GhS10billion from Germany yearly.

Another significant default remains the absence of a National Reintegration Centrefor returning Ghanaian migrants. The changing home dynamics and conditions under which irregular Diaspora return calls for a psychosocial and entrepreneurial support centre that shall provide a humane reintegration into the Ghanaian society. A case in point is the recent deportation of 75 Ghanaian Diaspora from the USA on the fringes of the recent Diaspora Homecoming Summit 2017. Irregular Diasporas might not return with $10,000 but might possess a cosmopolitan outlook with some valuable soft skills and social resources (Hannerz, 2009) that could improve customer relations, change workplace attitudes and introduce new farming techniques.

Formalised labour migration agreements shall project a win-win situation; bring labour migrants into the national tax net, curtail black market recruitments with its attendant human trafficking challenges, reduce unemployment pressures on sending governments, improve livelihoods of migrants and their families, whilst satisfying the labour shortfalls in the destination countries.

Having ratified a number of international conventions including the ILO’s convention which prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labour (1957 and 1958), the Convention on the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment of migrant workers (1975), among others, Ghana must seek to leverage on these international agreements to enhance its bilateral cooperation in furtherance of her national interests.


The global demographic profile is highly uneven. In Africa, over 60% of the unemployed are young people, while developing countries’ workforce is projected to rise from 2.4 billion in 2005 to 3.6 billion in 2040, in contrast with developed countries having more people over the age of 60 than under age 15 with an expected population drop of nearly 25 per cent by 2050 (IOM, 2010). Consequently, developed countries will in no time need more foreign workers (skilled and unskilled).

Ghana can therefore benefit by investing in the technological training of its workforce with a global perspective. Modelled around those of the Philippines, South Korea and India, the export of such professionals under bilateral agreements, e.g. the Italy-Ghana initiative to recruit 1000 semi-skilled migrants annually from Ghana to work in Italy (See Manuh, 2006) will soar up tax earnings under proactive labour and tax laws, ease the graduate unemployment and in the near future lead to a “brain gain” when favourable conditions are provided under a holistic “Diaspora Policy” to attract these professionals, especially in the industrial and technological sectors back home for national development.

Kwaku Yeboah



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