Being the text of a contribution to the Yearbook of the Bachelors of Medical Laboratotry Science (BMLS) graduating class of 2010 of the Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria

Look before you 'Andrew'

I consider it a great honour to be asked to contribute to the Yearbook of the BMLS graduating class of the Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria on the topic relating to migration. Being a Nigerian in the Diaspora who has experienced migration, I believe this piece will be helpful in guiding some of the aspiring migrants among you.

I have chosen the title ‘Look before you ‘Andrew'' which literarily means that you should think carefully about the possible gains and consequences before migrating . Andrew was a name adopted to depict a Nigerian emigrant during the first wave of emigration among the youths in the mid and late 80's when the federal government launched series of campaign to dissuade the youths from ‘checking-out', a common jargon for migration then.

Considering the state of the nation that evidently shows a high level of insecurity, high unemployment, infrastructural collapse, systemic failure and lack of adequate investment in research and development, expectedly a growing numbers of young and talented Nigerians continue to choose to go abroad in search of greener pastures.

Youth are the future of a nation but unfortunately, the brightest among ours who are to bring future prosperity and stability to our fatherland often find themselves doing same in other countries notably the US and UK.

As green as the pasture may seem at the other side or as bright as the future may look abroad, it is important to note that majority of emigrants do wish they never left their countries as the would later find out that challenges also abound in those foreign lands.

Immigration, naturally, is a phenomenon which comes to play regardless of the situation. It's as old as age and there is always a directed, regular, or systematic movement of people from one place to the other whether in peacetime or wartime; in the time of prosperity and boom or the time of doom or famine; from rich country to poor country and vice versa but in recent times especially in Nigeria most people migrate on economic ground qualifying them to be called economic migrant.

The term economic migration refers to migrating from one country to another for the purposes of seeking employment or improved financial position in order to improve one's living conditions. An economic migrant can be someone from the United States immigrating to Nigeria or vice versa but the flow is more often than not towards the more prosperous nations.

The major reasons for economic migration is for the migrants to earn more money in richer countries due to the gap in wages. Many people also go to seek jobs since their own country registers a high unemployment rates.

Many countries have immigration and visa restrictions that prohibit a person entering their countries for the purposes of working without a valid work visa. Persons who are suspected as economic migrants can be refused entry into such countries.

While migration is not a bad idea, it requires preparation and planning for someone to effectively migrate without tears and without such planning one may end up regretting the action when it is too late.

Since the wave of economic uncertainties of the 80's and the subsequent devaluation of the currencies of many third world countries due to the pressures from IMF and the World Bank as was in our Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the mid 80's, the level of income in the third world shrank compared to what was obtained in the West and this caused a surge in the number of economic migrants from the poor countries being pulled to the West.

The West also used the disparity in income to lure many of the brightest and best African scientists (like you) and other professionals to their countries by the promise of better pay and more importantly for the scientist, the chance to carry out more effective research and thereby exploiting their energies, talents and skills causing a massive brain drain to Africa and the other developing nations.

Many bright students are also being offered scholarships, grants and fellowship abroad to perfect the brain drain.

On the other hand, those who hastily travel without getting their documents right do always have many years to regret this moves. Living in a foreign land without a legal paper is one of the worst thing that can happen to anyone who has a choice to stay in his/her country.

Without a resident and/or work permit, it is almost impossible to be legally and gainfully employed no matter the qualification. In the 90's many started as illegal immigrant travelling only on short term visiting visas but ended up through marriage, amnesty and political asylum to regularise themselves but in most cases after many wasteful years of unquantifiable frustrations. In extreme cases, many left and some are still leaving without any visa. They transit through many nations and even the dreaded Sahara desert in a dispensable but desperate journey en route Europe subjecting themselves to wanton inhuman and perilously disparaging experiences. Please read the story Europe by desert: Tears of African migrants.

To you graduating class, it is natural that the urge will be there for some of you to travel after your NYSC. Yes, travelling is part of life, we all know that and migrating is also a natural phenomenon and we are all products of migration whether it is Oduduwa migrating from Mecca in 11th century or my father migrating to Lagos from Efon Alaaye Ekiti in the 50's or I migrating to Europe in the ‘90's, it is a continuous process.

As we live in a globalised world, migration is now much easier but it must be done with caution, and careful planning. It is imperative to ask a few questions before you decide whether to travel or not by weighing the costs and benefits.

Why should I travel?

As graduates of Medical Laboratory Science, you can travel to study or work or do both.

To study abroad

It is a bright idea if you have the opportunity to further your education abroad especially in the English speaking countries like the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. Going to non English speaking countries may require taking a language course thereby prolonging the duration of the programme however some non English speaking countries do have English and American universities where English is the official language to teach their courses.

Studying abroad enables you to acquire modern skills and take advantages of best technologies in the world that will certainly help you to garner experience that would have been otherwise impossible to get at home. These skills and experiences are assumed will be brought back to good use at home.

Problems of studying abroad

Finance is the first problem. Medical sciences are some of the most expensive courses in foreign universities and one has to really have a strong financial support to be able to accomplish this nonetheless some government agencies, NGOs, foundations, institutions do offer scholarship and grants to bright and indigent students especially from Africa.

Another problem is the procurement of visa. Since so many people are applying to get visas to these countries, they process sometimes can be cumbersome but if you get your documents right, no matter how rigorous the screening process, you will surely get your visa. Sometimes the embassy officials deliberately put obstacles on the way to getting visas but this is often done to know people whose intentions are really genuine and those are the one who pursue this to a conclusive end.

To work abroad

Medical workers are always in high demand in the West with one of the most attractive remunerations. In some of the developed world, it is almost inconceivable that a medical worker will be out of job even for a very short period. For anyone who has the opportunity to travel abroad and work, it is not a bad idea. Most Nigerians set out to work and even end up studying as well to have higher qualifications.

The caution is that one has to get all the travel document right otherwise one may join the illegal immigrants market where doing any menial job to survive is a necessity. There are Nigerian doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants etc who are making do with just any work in the name of survival. If they had processed their travelling thoroughly, they would have had different stories.

How do I go about travelling

The best way is to process the documents is through the Embassies and High Commission as someone intending to go and study or work. Many of the developed countries have programmes and processes that enable skilled worker to migrate to their countries either permanently or for a certain number of years after which they are expected to return to their countries. Very often the time required to process this can be upward of one year or even two but it's by far the best way to go. All relevant Information are available on the websites of these Embassies and High Commissions.

Another option is the American visa lottery and the likes of it. These randomly give opportunities to the lucky winners to migrate permanently to the US and other countries that have similar programmes.

Another option is the use of immigration lawyers and agents in the intended countries of migration. Such firms and agencies are advertised on the internet or on the pages of newspapers and magazines. This requires special cautions because many of them are fraudsters - 419. One needs to do some background checks through the Embassies or High Commission before dealing with any of them.

Why Shouldn't I migrate

As good as travelling my look with all the prospects it seems to offer, if you ask migrants, majority will candidly tell you that the old saying still applies that ‘home, sweet home, there is no place like home.

Many set out to travel and return back home after completing their studies or a few years of working but this never was in most cases for good and bad reasons.

While living abroad, you definitely live in a much better environment and enjoy the best of facilities in the world but the troubles are also enormous. Living in a foreign land is full of challenges.

Living away from one's root and family in an unfamiliar terrain is always stressful and nostalgic. For first generation of immigrants, no matter how green the pastures are, it is always a lifetime sacrifice.

While the earnings may be much higher than those obtained back at home, the bills are also high and maintaining a commensurable living standard is extremely costly. This cause many to be doing 2 or 3 jobs in order to meet up.

Another factor to be considered is the fact that most of the developed countries are going through their worst times economically. The excruciating effects of this crisis is felt most by the migrants.

Unemployment is also on the rise in many of the developed economies. Many years of machination, computerisation, developments and outsourcing have taken away jobs from these countries. Naturally, the immigrants are also the worst hit. Some countries are (un)officially adopting the principle of only giving out only the jobs that their nationals are unwilling to do.

As Nigerians, we may be familiar with tribalism and nepotism but not racism. In recent years, xenophobia and racism are on the rise as some political parties in some countries are openly embracing them. Many of the countries are now playing the blame game whenever anything goes wrong in the society (from crimes to unemployment and from subverting the national culture to distorting national identity), The migrants are time and again blamed on thereby creating a tension between the natives and the migrants.

Sensationalist reports also fill the press detailing crimes committed by immigrants, and the inflammatory rhetoric of politicians all to aggravate popular xenophobic sentiments. Specifically the Abdulmutallab factor has put Nigerians on the suspect lists of many host countries. This has also heightened the hyped Islamophobia as well.

Migrants are always victims of capitalist exploitation. There is a differential treatment at workplace where migrants are at the receiving end. Many a times, there is an invisible ceiling placed on the career height of a migrant.

Migration certainly present a short term financial advantage but the long run advantage remains in remaining in homeland. Many out there wish they never travelled as many are ever happy they did.

As you are graduating to the real world and employment market, I wish you all God's love, protection, mercy and blessing to be able to explore and exploit the abounding opportunities out there for the benefit of mankind and for those who would be migrating, always remember home and be good ambassadors of Nigeria.

Good People, Great Nation!

God Bless Nigeria!

Rufus Kayode Oteniya - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.