Will The Credit Crunch Bring Them Home?
Just as the past decades of deep economic woes sent droves of Ghanaians overseas, perhaps the ensuing economic woes abroad will bring record numbers of our sons and daughters back home.
The West, long a haven for the economically challenged African is facing an unprecedented financial downturn, unique because of its immense global reach.
Though for decades, North America, Europe and other developed countries opened their arms to employ our skilled labour resulting in the brain drain phenomenon, in an uncertain economy, they are less likely to encourage large-scale immigration.
For a few years running, The United States in particular has noticed that younger people from South America, Eastern Europe, and Southern Asia are returning home soon after their studies to take up positions in their home countries.
Other young working immigrants are going back home because their own economies are recovering at a fast enough pace in comparison to the increasingly difficult economic conditions in the US. Some of these people had lived in the States for decades but were suddenly returning home.
Apparently, the crackdown on illegal immigrants after the 2001 September 11 attacks had led to a tightening of immigration procedures and reduced tolerance for undocumented aliens.
This process was not limited to just the United States but all over Europe, increasing fears about terrorist attacks has led to increased homeland security.
This meant that even for legal immigrants, it was harder to bring other family members over and others seeking residency permits faced many more hurdles.
Fewer employers were prepared to bear the higher costs involved as well as face the possibility of increased scrutiny from immigration authorities even for highly qualified workers.
Meanwhile, back home, the economic misfortunes of the seventies and eighties have been easing especially for the educated Ghanaian.
While our economic expansion has occurred at a slower pace compared to India, Malaysia or Brazil for example, the situation is not as bleak as it was before.
Those who are fortunate enough to land jobs can look forward to a fairly good salary, and the possibility of car loans, mortgages, and improved chances for living comfortably.
Many Ghanaians living abroad especially those in school on the other hand often hold menial jobs.
They live from paycheck to paycheck, with little job security. There is very little family support within this highly stressful environment unlike the native born who can fall back on his folks if all else fails.
Suddenly, even though your friends and peers in Ghana might envy you because you're living abroad, you take a critical look at your standard of living and realize they are far better off. While the actual take home pay might be less, they are able to save a little more, socialize occasionally, and visit their family members regularly.
For the diehard sojourner however, the conveniences abroad far outweigh any deficiencies in their living situation.
A visit to the motherland leaves them frustrated with the bureaucratic bottlenecks, our poor infrastructure, and the stress that comes from living in a developing country. To these people, only extreme conditions will bring them home.
Certainly, when scores of people are losing their home, savings and livelihood, Ghana might appear more welcoming. If there is a possibility they will get a good job that will pay a living salary and allow qualified Ghanaians to maintain a semblance of their lives outside, many might be tempted.
Certainly, if anyone is taking note, you will have noticed a gradual trickle of young Ghanaian returnees in their twenties and thirties. Many are coming back with valuable skills earned at Universities and training institutions abroad.
Others have worked for several years in the highly competitive corporate environment while others have acquired valuable technological knowhow, which they can lend to build this country up.
It is up to the government and other stakeholders to strategically tap these skills and ease the way to enable them build enduring roots here in Ghana.
It is expedient that we ease the way for those who would want to return but cannot afford to do so with airfare perhaps and other forms of financial assistance.
This is because the cost of an air ticket is far cheaper than the resources we will spend equipping others to perform tasks those coming back can already perform.
While other countries have invested their resources to train many of these returnees, we could be poised to reap the resulting benefits.
The fear of the unknown coupled with their memories of how things used to be paralyses would-be returnees. With the absence of support services such as welfare and unemployment packages, often only the strong or desperate can turn their backs on the West.
Others might also view their coming back with nothing as a sign of failure. If they had mounting debt, they would have had to sell off their property to pay off their bills or come home with the albatross of unfinished business around their neck.
Since it is also difficult to confirm a job appointment in Ghana while outside, you would have to come down for the face-to-face interview and face the possibility you might not get a job for months or even years.
They would literally have to start from scratch when their friends who stayed behind might be better settled and more established.
The uncertainty is even worse for those with young families to support.
The transition is often easier when an improved quality of life rather than a larger paycheck is the greater incentive for coming back home. Others too find that the novelty of being home after many years away acts as a soothing analgesic often for several months.
The financial downturn will bring many Ghanaians home, some to explore the possibility of settling down here, investing their resources, or returning home to give a little back.
I hope that even when the financial fortunes improve abroad, the better Ghana we all hope is in the pipeline will keep our dear ones in the fold.