ROUGH NOTES – Transient Foreign Migrants

B: You mention economic migrants being maligned across Europe, but don’t draw the obvious comparison that flocks of expat staff take jobs away from locals in developing countries. It’s common in Ethiopia and Kenya for expat-heavy organisations to be hauled in front of relevant government authorities and asked to justify themselves. Especially in Ethiopia, permits for expat staff are often denied – partly due to the repressive anti-NGO leanings of the government, but also because of the (very valid) worry that these expats take highly paid management jobs away from local staff

P: I agree entirely. Problem is that there are so many issues in this area of argument, and each are deserving of greater attention… With this particular issue, I think it depends on the local context and the strength of the local workforce – some places there is (arguably) a greater need for expats, and in other places it barely makes sense to have any. It is particularly difficult when organisations working in countries with very strong local capacity still chose to pump in international staff and bulldoze the local setup – a particular problem in emergencies. 

B: This leads into a very interesting debate about how international organisations should weigh up the fact that expat staff typically have better writing, communication, analytical skills – though certainly not always – while local staff are more likely to have better contextual knowledge, language skills, understand what’s going on (again not always.) My guess is that international organisations tend to favour the person who speaks without a funny accent and who can write a coherent report. But this almost certainly isn’t always the right choice.

P: I think this ties back to the post about capacity building, and imposing a system that demands fluency in its processes rather than its substance (learn to speak Latin!). The trouble is when you have staff who are skilled in all the above, have solid experience and impressive track record and yet get stuck by the national/international glass ceiling. Whilst young Westerners are able to hop around the globe with ‘international’ salaries and an immediate advantage… 

B: Finally, I completely agree with your point about people needing to move away to get a decent salary. I was struck in East Africa by the merry-go-round effect; Sudanese came to work in Uganda, Ugandans go to Kenya, Kenyans go to Ethiopia, and so on. But yet there’s no obvious alternative – a fascinating blog post if anyone wants to write it?

P: Yes! Great idea. 

And.. in response to an editorial change made to the original blog:

P: I’ve taken out the term ‘national’ that you edited into the final ‘national’ colleagues paragraph- because that is exactly the problem that I’m trying to highlight. Who are they ‘national’ to?? My colleague from Goma is only national if he’s in DRC, but is international if he’s in Nepal, or Kenya, or Haiti .. and then gets the position and salary that  his experience deserves. When used as rigid, normative categories, terms like this can have really difficult side effects – like having to work outside your own country just to earn the title ‘international’ and the associated professional dividends.

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