Researchers call for improved European visa policies for African migrants

BY: Rosemary N.K. Ardayfio

Researchers who studied how living apart impacts the well-being of African migrants in Europe and their children and their caregivers in Africa have recommended that European visa policies be adjusted to allow families to function across borders.

This, they suggested, can be achieved by issuing temporary work visas that enable parents to travel home and visit their children, and by issuing specific visas for minors that allow children in the country of origin to visit their parents during school holidays.

The recommendations were the outcome of a five-year project  that studied the effect of international migration on migrant’s children who stay in their country of origin and their caregivers in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola and their parents who have migrated to The Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal respectively.

Transnational families
Titled, “Transnational Child Raising Arrangements between Africa and The Netherlands” (TCRA) the multi-sited study was one of the first to focus on transnational family life between Africa and European countries.

The TCRA projects included the TCRA-Ghana project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO/WOTRO} and the TCRAf-EUproject funded by NORFACE.
Maastricht University in the Netherlands coordinated the projects which were carried out by researchers from the University of Ghana, University of Lisbon, FAFO Institute for Applied International Studies and the University College Cork, Ireland.

Policy roundtable
The Globalization, Transnationalism and Development Research Programme of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University organised a policy round table as part of the closing conference of the TC RA-Ghana programme to share some of the emerging findings from the research projects.

The roundtable was attended by NGOs involved in migration and family issues for Dutch public institutions, advisors to the European Commission, policy makers and representatives of European governments, a representative each of the Ghana Immigration Service and the Ghana Education Service, members of the Ghanaian Community in Amsterdam and the researchers.

Emerging findings
Presenting the findings of the projects, Prof. Valentina Mazzucato, of the Maastricht University said the research findings suggest that the popular Western notion that growing up separated from one’s parents will always be harmful for children’s well-being is unjustified.

Children who have one or two parents who migrated overseas are not necessarily worse off emotionally than children who live with both parents in the country of origin.

“However, the absence of negative impacts on these children depends on three factors: good basic living conditions; a stable care arrangement where children do not change caregivers more than once; and an active relationship with the parents who are overseas through regular communication and face-to-face contact,” said  Prof. Mazzucato.

She emphasised that the findings of the TCRA projects were important for policymakers in Europe and Africa because from an economic perspective, migrant parents who are doing well emotionally perform better at their job and thus contribute more to the economies of the European countries where they live.

From a social perspective, she added, migrants provide much-needed labour in the countries where they work, thus European countries should therefore do their utmost to improve the conditions that allow migrants to fulfil their role as parents and raise healthy families.

The TCRA project further noted that European governments should be aware that their policies aimed at managing migration have an impact on the functioning of families across borders and that the most affected group  are undocumented migrants and those earning low income.

It recommended that in order to reduce suspicion and unnecessary delays in the family reunification procedure, immigration officials should acknowledge the social parenthood practices prevalent in many migrant origin countries that involve people other than nuclear family members in raising children.

Other recommendations focused on the need to ensure that family reunification  requirements does not disadvantage women  by creating conditions of dependency on a partner, and for European governments to improve migrants’ integration into their labour markets.

African countries are also urged to pay particular attention to children from transnational families, particularly in the school environment to reduce the possible negative effects of parental migration on children’s emotional well-being.

In his contributions to the discussion, Mr. Michel Bravo, Strategic Advisor, Deputy Head of Legal and General Affairs, Ministry of Security and Justice, The Netherlands, stated that while it was clear that migrant receiving countries need to dialogue on the effects of migration policies on migrant families, it is also important not to ignore the implications of integrating migrants into their societies.

He cited for instance that, when migrant parents exercise their choice to send their children to study in their countries of origin, it affects their integration into the migrant receiving country as it interferes with the promotion of social cohesion.

Speaking to the issue, the Director of Basic Education Division of the Ghana Education Service (GES) said the research has brought out the need for the education ministry to discuss how the sector can be more involved with children of migrants.

For instance, he said, it is important for teachers to improve their engagement with caregivers and to understand the role they play in the migrants’ child life.

Also evident from the findings is the need to review the manner in which data is captured in schools to help distinguish children whose caregivers are not their biological parents in order to appropriately address their needs.

A lawyer in The Netherlands, Corrine De Klerk stressed that immigration policies of most European countries ignore the interest of the child, thereby violating the rights of the child.

In addition, the policies are increasingly becoming feminized as the conditions migrant women have to meet before re-uniting with children left at home are becoming tighter.

Immigration policies, she stated should begin to consider the importance of the role women play in families and the additional value in face-to-face contact.

Prof. Takyiwaa Manuh, Head of the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission in Africa (UNECA), who moderated the roundtable, said the studies have implications for policy.

She called on policy makers in the research countries to discuss and emerging findings of the projects and the policy actions needed to address the issues.


Written by Rosemary Ardayfio, AMSTERDAM