GENEVA / WASHINGTON: As COVID-19 related travel restrictions — more than 100,000 as of the end of 2021— continue to inhibit cross-border mobility, a new report identifies the trends, challenges, and opportunities for governments, international organizations and other stakeholders to create a stronger global architecture on mobility and health. Doing so would both help safely restore travel and migration to pre-pandemic levels and better prepare countries for future public health crises.
The report published today by the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Global Data Institute and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analyzes the impact of COVID-19 on international mobility, drawing from an IOM database mapping travel and health measures and border closures around the world.
The report, COVID-19 and the State of Global Mobility in 2021, examines trends during the second year of the pandemic across a range of areas, including changes in restrictions, human movements, and policy innovation. It comes ahead of the first International Migration Review Forum (17-20 May) where UN Member States will gather to assess the progress in the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. IOM considers it a priority for States to work together to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of future pandemics.
A move away from blanket country-based restrictions. Countries enforced traveler-based restrictions such as requirements for vaccination certificates or negative COVID-19 test results.
A shift to “mobility by exception.” Rather than lifting restrictions, governments focused on exceptions for groups of travelers, creating greater complexity in the regime of travel measures.
Inconsistent responses to variants of concern. Even as some countries imposed route restrictions as new variants were identified, others waited until caseloads had ballooned and new variants had circulated globally.
A partial recovery in regular movement. As some travel restrictions were lifted, migration picked up to an extent, but migrants and travelers continued to face greater costs of moving across borders, as well as pandemic-related delays and backlogs in visa and travel processing.
An increase in some forms of irregular and unsafe movement. With opportunities to move through regular channels limited by pandemic-related policies, and with economic and social conditions worsening in many countries, irregular migration increased across parts of the Mediterranean, through Africa and across the Americas toward the US border.
A widening gap between who can and cannot move. The costs of travel—including financial costs related to testing and quarantine, as well as persistent uncertainty—continued to deter mobility and widen the global gap between movers and non-movers, with regular migration channels accessible only to those able to shoulder higher costs.
Promisingly, the world saw considerable policy innovation, particularly around risk assessment and digital health credentials. Among the trends witnessed:
Global coordination remains limited but is growing. Although unilateral travel measures persisted, efforts to strengthen coordination gained some momentum, primarily through the United Nations system, and governments and international organizations reiterated their commitment to cooperation, better integration of global mobility and health considerations. For example, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) produced guidance in collaboration with international organizations for governments and industry leaders on restarting mobility through public health corridors.
Cooperation was stronger in some regions. Those with the greatest pre-pandemic levels of cooperation, particularly regions with existing intraregional mobility and border frameworks such as Europe and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, were best equipped to coordinate pandemic responses.
The report underscores how governments, international organizations and other key stakeholders could work together to build a stronger global architecture on mobility and health. It offers a series of principles that should govern cross-border mobility, including clear and predictable use of travel measures; equity in applying low-cost measures to all travelers regardless of origin; streamlined and sparing use of entry restrictions; and a future-focused outlook, with investments made now in systems forming the basis of response to future health crises.
“If 2020 was the year of crisis and fragmentation, 2021 saw partial but not-yet-comprehensive efforts to restart mobility,” the report’s authors write. “By learning from and building on the lessons of the pandemic thus far, governments and authorities and their partners can work to restart mobility at scale and build a more resilient global mobility architecture in 2022 and beyond.”