Headline Diplomat eJournal – Issue 1, Series 2
The perilous lenses of COVID-19: The sociopolitical impact
Writes Edwin Odipo, Content Writer, Headline Diplomat eJournal, LUDCI.eu
COVID-19 has hit many countries hard and affected how people work and live. One of the groups of people who are feeling great impact is the expatriate community. Whether it’s in the U.S, U.K, China, Singapore, U.A.E, France, Spain, Canada, or even Germany, the expats working in different parts of the world have had the greatest challenge coping with the situation.
The global pandemic has also had a great impact on the expats who were relocating and those who had relocated to host countries. Brooke Stokes, a U.S citizen, relocated to Britain in October after marrying a British man she met on vacation. After the Covid-19 outbreak, she is dumbfounded and does not know what to do. “If we’re not meeting the income requirement or able to afford the visa, I obviously have no savings to go get things in place (in the U.S), like health insurance, housing,” Stokes told CBS News. “It is very, very concerning right now.” She added, “I don’t have anything there to go back to.”
Living away from family and friends is one of the most challenging parts of being an expat. Nonetheless, you’ve to get used to a new climate and culture. But without surety on when the epidemic will be over and when travel will resume fully, members of the expat community may find the situation becoming even more disastrous.
“When you live in one place for so long, you develop an emotional attachment,” says Mr. Desai, a chief executive with engineering giant Larsen and Turbo, who has been living in Kuwait for the past 25-years. He adds, “It will affect me emotionally more than financially.” Mr. Desai is one of many expatriates with an uncertain future after a bill to reduce the number of foreign workers in Kuwait has been partly okayed.
Some expats had already sold their homes and moved kids out of their schools before lockdown, in preparation of moving to their newfound homes. Now, some of them are stranded and finding it is hard to regain their homes or move to their newfound homes.
For example, Sarah Sissons required less than a month to make up her mind about returning home, in Australia. The 39-year old has been living in Dubai for the past 25 years. Sarrah Sissons, said, “Dubai is home for me,” she added, “it’s expensive here and there’s no safety for expats. If I take the same money to Australia, and we run out of everything, at least we’ll have medical insurance and free schooling.” Sarah owned a small café and worked as a freelance human resources consultant before the pandemic hit.
Since the pandemic has continued to ravage the world, many expats are now contemplating whether to stay put or go back home. Some expats did not think twice about returning home when the pandemic was at its peak. Nikki Martin, an Australian expatriate was stuck in an apartment with a toddler and a newborn. As coronavirus cases started to rise, she did not think twice about leaving for home. She says, “I packed a few suitcases, and that was it.” She added, “Within 36 hours we were on a plane.”
A good number of the 9 million U.S. expatriates say they are alleviated to be staying far away during the global epidemic while some worry about their family back in the U.S. For instance, Abe Chuang, an American working in Japan, is hanging on the coronavirus epidemic far from his native Los Angeles with no ruefulness about his expatriate experience. “The U.S. is always going to be home, but I honestly could not have picked a better place to be locked down,” said Mr. Chuang, who loves the atmosphere these days around his central Tokyo apartment to a quiet Sunday.
However, not all expatriates are happily living and working abroad, as some have lost their jobs and are thinking of repatriating. The daily reported that “thousands of expats have been made redundant” due to the COVID-19’s ravaging impact on the UAE economy. With no choice but to go back home to their countries, the UAE’s expat community is selling all their possessions from cars to gym subscriptions, and other stuff. The report noted that about 90% of the UAE’s population is expatriates.
Some expatriates working in Africa are going through very challenging situations. Many Africans have implicated Europeans and Americans for the spread of COVID-19. For instance, Cameroon and Ethiopia have reported cases of verbal attacks on light-skinned people. On March 19, the US Embassy in Yaounde released a travel warning to US citizens in the wake of what it said was “a rise of anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of the spread of COVID-19.” The travel warning continued to read, “Reports include verbal and online harassment, stone-throwing, and banging on vehicles occupied by expatriates.”
Many Africans believe that the pandemic was brought by light-skinned people. “You really need to consider the neighborhood in which you live like a European because many here believe we brought the virus.” Ulrike Muller, a German expatriate working in Burkina Faso told DW.
A study by Oxford Economics states that up to 900, 000 jobs may be lost in the U.A.E. Selina Dixon, a British expatriate, and a fashion marketer, relocated from Surrey to Dubai around 11 years ago. She told the Telegraph that she was laid off from her job a few weeks ago, and is now living off her thin savings. Selina Dixon told Telegraph, “Every day you wake up, you’re looking on LinkedIn. Speaking to contacts and your network, but then you have to be mindful there are so many people going through this.”
Many governments called upon their citizens living abroad to return home if possible. Nevertheless, most of them found this financially impracticable. For instance, Mr. John Shaw, a husband and a father of two sons, has been working in Kenya for the past two years. He saw what was happening in the U.S.A and decided to remain in Kenya. “Africa just felt better,” said Mr. Shaw. He added, “There are a lot of unknowns in terms of how Americans will deal with this crisis. It didn’t feel obvious to us at all that it will go there.”
In Europe, a handful of expats had it rough after they lost their jobs and couldn’t fend for themselves. For example, a self-employed business consultant from an unspecified EU country said that they were incapable of accessing the financial support packages that the Danish government provided. They complained, “My income became zero kroner, for three months,” they added, “I didn’t get any money from the government or anybody, so it was extremely hard to survive. However, I hope it will get better soon and we will get back to normal life. I travel a lot because of work but I could not travel abroad at all.”
As expats grapple to deal with their new reality, the future is unknown. Failure of understanding how the epidemic will unfold affects the expats’ economic, physical, and mental well-being against an atmosphere of the world that, for many, is increasingly nervous, distressed, and lacking companionship. That’s why being closer to your loved ones is very crucial than ever. But as restrictions ease and businesses start to open up, serious decisions have to be made that will change the lives of expatriates forever. Expats will have to think about their short-term and long-term goals as they work away from home. Moving forward; will expatriates consider investing back at home or move permanently in their host countries? This is a question for another day, but has to be considered by all expatriates!