Geographies in Depth

How temporary visas are helping Ebola-hit nations

Kirsten Schuettler
Senior Program Officer, World Bank
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The latest Ebola outbreak is the worst in history, with more than 15,000 cases and over 5,400 deaths reported. Countries have stepped up their efforts to help the most affected West African countries bring the epidemic under control.

As part of its Ebola response, the United States government has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to migrants from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone (and individuals without nationality who last habitually resided in these countries). This measure protects those who are already in the US from deportation, and allows them to work in the US legally. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimate that about 8,000 people will be eligible to apply.

What impact will this have on the three countries most affected by Ebola? Unlike others covered by TPS, those under TPS from West Africa will not be allowed to travel to their home countries and come back to the United States, due to concerns about the potential spread of Ebola. But the TPS will allow them to send more money home, and to send it through official channels.

In 2013, $93 million in officially recorded remittances were sent to Guinea, $383 million to Liberia and $68 million to Sierra Leone. They are especially important for Liberia, where they were equivalent to 20% of GDP and 78% of foreign exchange reserves in 2013. Studies on the impacts of legalization in the United States have found significant positive impacts on migrants’ incomes. If we assume a 20 percent increase in the remittances send by those officially expected to benefit from TPS, over $4 million more will arrive directly where they are needed most. The actual numbers might be much higher.

At a time when Ebola has not only caused a terrible loss in life and human suffering, but has also set back economic development and increased poverty in the affected countries, remittances sent directly to families and friends are even more crucial than before. The World Bank has estimated that in the case of a slow containment, Ebola could lead to a cumulative loss in GDP over 2014/2015 of $32.6 billion (almost 5 percent of the 2013 GDP of West Africa). A World Bank high frequency cell phone survey measuring the economic impact of Ebola on Liberian households showed that nearly half of those who worked before the Ebola outbreak are no longer working. This has increased food insecurity: Over 90 percent of those interviewed were afraid that their household would not have enough to eat.

The decision to grant TPS is a small but important contribution to help the people in the most affected low-income countries in West Africa cope with the socio-economic impacts of Ebola. This shows once again the role of TPS as an instrument to help countries in crisis, as has been the case in the past, such as Haiti, among others. Besides remittances, the diaspora abroad also contributes to the recovery of their countries of origin through philanthropic activities, investments and trade linkages.#

This article is published in collaboration with The World Bank’s People Move Blog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Kirsten Schuettler is a Senior Program Officer at the World Bank’s Development Economics – Prospects Group.

Image: A woman with a baby on her back looks on at an informal settlement in the capital Luanda, August 30, 2012. Angolans will go to the polls on Friday to elect lawmakers and their president. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.

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