Epidemics, labour and mobility
The spread of the coronavirus pandemic shows in stark terms the role of migration and (im)mobility in a crisis. Since the rise of COVID-19, borders have been closed, travel routes shut down, whole countries placed in quarantine, and families divided. Given the world’s reliance on mobility, of both people and goods, the effects of this sudden halt have been felt in practically every aspect of our social and economic lives. Mobility within and between cities is restricted as much of everyday activities have frozen. We are reminded of just how interconnected our world is.
As with many crises, those on the move feel the effects most acutely, particularly people with mobile livelihoods. Travel bans are shaking immigration systems, with widespread border closures reducing movement at an unprecedented rate. Outside the spotlight, the pandemic places pressure on the plight and resilience of those whose livelihoods rely on mobility – such as domestic workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, health sector professionals, hospitality workers, delivery drivers, and gig economy workers. With borders closing, people with mobile livelihoods are prevented from migrating for work, or from returning home to be with family. As well, migrant workers may find themselves out of work – due to illness, business closure or failure in the usual networks or infrastructures they rely on – with limited access to welfare or healthcare in a time of need, and reduced capacity to send remittances to family. In turn, many economies are facing gaps in their workforces where migrants or seasonal workers are relied on for everything from fruit picking to domestic care. This edition explores, in essence, how the livelihoods of mobile workers have been impacted by this pandemic.
In this issue, we follow migrants and other people on the move as they navigate new situations of vulnerability and economic insecurity in host societies, return to their places of origin, or find themselves caught between borders. We examine recent policies and regulations affecting migrants and mobile workers, and question what ‘being essential’ for the economy means during a pandemic. Finally, we turn to history and literature to look for clues about what the future of mobility may look like.
We would like to thank Professor Biao Xiang for encouraging us to undertake this issue and for his guidance and support throughout the editorial process. We are honoured to join the initiative of the Coronavirus and Mobility Forum at the University of Oxford's Centre of Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). Some of the articles in this issue will be republished at the Forum, contributing to a wider discussion across disciplines about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on mobilities.