Highly Skilled Migrant Workers as a Vulnerability of Small Island Developing States During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cases of Three Countries in Micronesia
Miko Maekawa*1,, Mikiyasu Nakayama*2, Ryo Fujikura*3, Takayasu Yoshida*4, and Nagisa Shiiba*1
*1Ocean Policy Research Institute (OPRI), Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF)
1-15-16 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8524, Japan
*2Global Infrastructure Fund Research Foundation Japan, Tokyo, Japan
*3Faculty of Sustainability Studies, Hosei University, Tokyo, Japan
*4Sunrise Japan Hospital, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Several small island developing states (SIDS) in the Pacific managed to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing measures to ensure national isolation. Primarily due to being ordered to leave by their respective organizations, e.g., overseas development administration (ODA) in the developed world, many highly skilled migrant workers left these countries. This sudden exodus of highly skilled foreigners created a number of problems in these countries; for example, schools suffered from teacher staffing shortages and hospitals had reduced capacity to offer medical services due to the paucity of nurses and doctors. This study aims to examine the situations in the Federated State of Micronesia (FSM), Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), where many foreign workers have left their duty stations to return home under COVID-19, to elicit lessons learned and possible ways and means to alleviate the observed problems. To this end, literature surveys and interviews were conducted with informants. Results indicated that developing and maintaining a remote work environment is a promising method to fill the gaps caused by the sudden absence of foreign workers in management posts, even under non-emergency situation. This is because in the case that highly skilled migrant workers are forced to vacate their duty stations suddenly, immediately hiring replacements is often not possible. Promoting distance education also proved effective for COVID-19-free nations such as the FSM, Palau, and the RMI, not only during emergencies, but also during normal times. Similarly, the daily use of telemedicine is likely to be effective in coping with emergencies, as shown in the case of FSM’s Pohnpei State Hospital. We found both distance education and telemedicine to be effective measures to address the sudden departure of highly skilled migrant workers in the fields of education and medical services. Moreover, other forms of remote work should prove useful in other sectors such as industry and administration. These systems should be progressively developed during non-emergency times and integrated into the daily operations of relevant sectors.
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