By Malick Nyang
Irregular migration from West Africa to Europe across the Sahara and Mediterranean is extremely risky for migrants and has been a key concern to policymakers in the subregion.
In The Gambia, the lack of access to employment opportunities among the youth is widely cited as a major contributing factor to irregular migration. In other words, unemployment has been the key push factor for many young people to venture into this dangerous journey.
According to the 2018 Gambia Labor Force Survey, 95% of Gambian irregular migrants surveyed cited “lack of work” as their primary reason for migrating.
However, there are jobs and business opportunities in The Gambia that young people can utilize to make life better for themselves in the country. And there are also cheaper, safer and legal migration options that are open for young people to explore.
For example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched a vocational training programme aimed at equipping Gambian youth with the skills to engage in entrepreneurial ventures or seek employment.
The Migration Project reveals four legal avenues for Gambians willing to move to Europe. These are the EU Blue Card Scheme for highly skilled foreigners, family reunification with close family members, resettlement in case of direct threat and persecution in The Gambia, and Schengen student visa.
These avenues are herein briefly explained:
- Blue Card Work Visa Scheme: The European Union (EU) has a scheme to bring in talent from other countries such as The Gambia called the EU Blue Card Scheme. In 2016 the scheme was reviewed and while it still focuses on high-skilled migrants, the salary threshold has been lowered making it more accessible to potential migrants.
Blue cards are available to those who have specific expertise in an area such as information technology or academic research. This route has the advantage of ensuring migrants have a job secured in advance and are able to travel safely and legally.
- Family reunification: If a direct family member has refugee status or legal permanent residency in a European country, it is possible that a spouse, parent or child might be able to join them. Family reunification is one of the main reasons for immigration into the EU.
Once admitted in a European country through family reunification, family members receive a residence permit and obtain access to education, employment and vocational training.
- Resettlement: Those with a strong claim for asylum who need to leave The Gambia out of fear for their life or because of persecution can travel to the nearest safe country and apply with the United Nations to be resettled. Migrants who are offered resettlement, can fly to their destination country with the assurance of a residency permit. The UN resettled 125,800 refugees in 2016. Refugees may be resettled in the European Union.
- Student visas: Those accepted into a European university who can pay the fees can apply for a student Schengen visa allowing them to study, travel and work (part-time). The student visa is not an immigrant visa. Every student from a country that requires a visa to enter European countries must obtain a student visa in order to follow studies there.
Tuition fees can be cheaper than irregular migration. A bachelor’s degree at the University of Amsterdam, for example, costs around 9,000 euros. Foreign students are allowed to work part-time to finance their studies.
Besides, there are new opportunities for Gambians looking to invest in their future and improve their living conditions in The Gambia such as: starting a business in the growing tourism industry, Youth Empowerment Project which trains and supports young entrepreneurs, studying in one of the several training centers in the country, starting a small business with support from micro-finance institutions, the new foreign investment plan that will participate in creating new jobs in the country, among others.
Significantly, youth can benefit from WAKAWell – a website that makes it easier for young people, their families, and communities to learn about how to travel safely. The site has a real-life network of young people in Africa advocating for safe migration.
In addition, one may consider migrating to any of the ECOWAS countries as it is easier to obtain a visa and there are many business and job opportunities in the region.