8. What Future?

Too often the decision to emigrate is taken without a full comprehension of the magnitude and the degree of complete and utter commitment to a different way of life which will affect oneself and one's family for generations.

For most migrants, emigration was meant to be, at least originally, a short term solution to an economic problem. Many were those who believed they could go to Australia or some other migrant-accepting country for a short period of a few years, make enough money to return home and live in reasonable comfort Others would have cut the Gordian knot from the very start and sold house and property and sailed with all their family to the new land where they planned to stay for ever. Between these two extremes we find a large number who went out with one intention and changed it some time after settling overseas.

If one looked at the history of migration of Maltese to Australia, particularly when one listens to the story they themselves have to tell (See Caruana 1995, York,1986, 1990), one can see these patterns illustrated over and over again. There are those who left Malta in the 1920s and never returned. Others have paid a visit only after a generation or more, having lost practically all contact with the old country.

There are also those who, having returned from overseas to settle in Malta find the process too difficult, their expectations too different from what they found, and decide to up and go back once again. The phenomenon or returning migrants has been an important aspect of the migration story which has not yet been fully analysed (see for instance, King, 1978)

We have now reached a stage where migration as a phenomenon has all but disappeared from the Maltese Islands. There are still of course those who go overseas for relatively short periods of time, for post-graduate study for instance, or as a result of business requirements, but the number of those leaving the Islands for permanent settlement overseas has become a trickle of a couple of hundred a year. So we are in a better position to sit back and analyse the phenomenon which moulded our demography and influenced our economy to such an extent for the last half-century, and which came to a climax in the post war years of 1950-1960. This history has not, however, yet been written. There is a dearth of information available on the effect of the migration process on the Maltese Islands. There is no analysis of migration in the 20th century on the lines of the study in nineteenth century migration undertaken by Charles A Price (1954). We do not have as yet an economic history of migration.

The two questions that need to be asked are: Has migration solved the problems of the countries involved, and secondly and just as importantly, has it fulfilled the needs of the migrants themselves?

The attitudes by host countries towards migrants have been characterised by fluctuations in interest, a love-hate relationship that at times bordered on the schizophrenic. Australia and Canada have had their doors open to Maltese migration primarily because of their problems associated with vast under-populated areas which needed development. For them the motto has often been "populate or perish". The threat of a Japanese invasion during the second world war gave Australian immigration programme an immediate urgency. Projected ideal population size often meant a doubling in the number of population and this could not conceivably be achieved through natural growth. Immigration was the only solution.

This thinking has, however, has changed quite dramatically over the last decade or so, where voices ranging from conservationists to economists have begun to question the net value of an increase in population and have striven to restrict it to those who are essential for the economy of the country.

Other countries, such as the United States, have always imposed a strict quota on the number of immigrants. The UK was a different matter again. As head of the Commonwealth it had to accept a number of migrants not because it needed them, but only from a sense of obligation. This ended soon after the UK entered Europe and all but cut off its ties with the former "Commonwealth" which retained only a semblance of its former status and certainly did not carry with it an implied obligation to accept migrants from ex-colonies.

What about the situation from the mother country's point of view? Has Malta benefited from migration? There is a tacit belief that this is the case, but hard statistics are rather difficult to find. Some of the more obvious economic benefits resulting for migrants themselves have been mentioned already. The continued economic benefit from migrants returning home for a holiday, I have estimated elsewhere at no less than 50,000 tourist weeks per year, but again , hard data are hard to come by. The wealth in terms of cash as well as expertise that ex-migrants have brought with them is another unknown quantity which one would have thought was of benefit to the old country.

What is the cost of migration? While shrill voices have been raised by those who are against further migrant intake on the basis of increased costs of the migration process (see chapter 4), very much less has been said and written about the cost to the country resulting from loss of its citizens, particularly when this becomes a torrent, as happened in Malta in 1950-1960.

For many countries this cost is mainly identified as a brain-drain rather than a brawn-drain which was more the case with Maltese migrants. The cost of migration to Malta is measured more in terms of human suffering from the trauma of separation, and resulting psychological impact, rather than in economic terms, which, as mentioned above were positive rather than negative sequels. Malta is still a net exporter of professional personnel, particularly in the medical field where medical graduates have had to seek employment oversees. This 'brain drain" has not been a major feature, however, of the major migration streams to Australia and Canada, where, if anything, the migrants were selected not on the basis of the intellectual prowess, but primarily on their ability to do manual labour. As one migrant said, the main medical test was an examination of the palm of the hand to confirm the presence of calluses! (Mark Caruana, personal communication.)

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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