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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN)

Migration Issues in the Asia Pacific

ISSUES PAPER FROM FIJI

    A. Background

Emigration to metropolitan countries has long been an important area of research in the Pacific Islands (eg. Walsh & Trlin 1971; Bedford 1989; Connell ed. 1990; Hayes 1991; and Jones 1976), but it had not received much attention in Fiji before the coups of 1987, even though emigration had been an important population dynamic, at least for the Indo-Fijian population, since the 1970s. Emigration increased dramatically in the 2–3 years following the 1987 coups, with about 44,000 people leaving the country between 1987 and 1990. The outflow has now steadied at about 5,000–6,000 per annum.

While the level of emigration has lessened, the lack of resolution of key fundamental problems, such as the renewal of land leases due to begin expiring in 1997, and the recent sensationalised plans by indigenous Fijians to replace Indo-Fijians in the sugar cane industry by 2000, may be expected to at least maintain and probably significantly increase the current level of Fiji emigration for some time to come.

Most emigrants from Fiji have been Indo-Fijians. Recently, however, the number of indigenous Fijian emigrants has been increasing, which indicates that Fiji’s ‘push’ and international ‘pull’ factors no longer affect only one section of the community.

Only a few destinations host the vast majority of emigrants: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States of America receive about 96 per cent of all Fiji emigrants. This remarkable degree of concentration is based on Fiji’s membership (until 1987) of the British Commonwealth (explaining the importance of Canada as a destination), close proximity (Australia and New Zealand) and chain migration. The pattern of movement has been changing in recent years, with Canada hosting proportionately fewer emigrants.

Emigration from Fiji has raised concerns in Fiji in non-government circles but not in government which, since the 1987 coups, has been concentrating on indigenous Fijian development. Recent World Bank reports, for instance, have raised concern about the scale of emigration and its impact on Fiji’s supply of skilled manpower. This concern has also been raised by employer and business groups.

This paper is organised into five sections. The first section examines the current magnitude and direction of emigration from Fiji; the second examines the composition of emigrants in terms of gender, ethnic and skill groups; and the third reviews studies undertaken so far on emigration and identifies research lacunae. In section four, we identify and discuss the main issues relating to emigration in Fiji.

    B. Magnitude

Researchers on emigration from Fiji have argued that government data on emigration are not adequate. In a recent incisive review of emigration from Fiji, Chetty and Prasad argue for instance, that ‘There is a serious conceptual problem in measuring migration in Fiji’ (Chetty & Prasad 1993, p. 3). Bedford (1989, p. 143) also noted that Bureau of Statistics emigration data ‘greatly understates the extent of population loss to Fiji since the first coup’.

There are three main reasons for this. First, government data rely on emigrants declaring their departing status correctly, and there are good reasons why many do not. Second, there is a degree of return migration which would not be captured in government emigration statistics. Finally, and most seriously, emigration data misses many Fiji-born people who left Fiji in the aftermath of the coups as visitors but became residents while abroad. This was particularly the situation in the case of New Zealand and Canada (see Bedford 1989, p. 152). Because of these reasons, it is necessary to examine more than one set of emigration data if we are to establish likely losses from emigration over the years.

The first set of data (Table 1) shows the magnitude of emigration from Fiji from 1983 to 1994 as seen from residents declaring themselves emigrants in their departure cards. It indicates a relatively high level of emigration from 1973–1977; lower emigration between 1978–1980; a steady build up of the year of the coups in 1987; a doubling of emigration in the years immediately following the coups; and a lower, but steady emigration rate of about 4000 people a year since.

A total of 83,904 people emigrated between 1973–1994, averaging 3814 per annum. Between 1980 and 1986, prior to the coups, emigration averaged about 2640 per annum. The coups led to a sharp increase in emigration: 41,767 of the total emigrants between 1973–1994 emigrated after the coups, comprising almost 50 per cent of the total. Moreover, the average number of emigrants after the coups almost doubled from 2640 per annum between 1980–1986 to 5670 per annum between 1987-1990 (Table 1).


Table 1: Declared Emigrants from Fiji 1973–1994

Year

Number

Percentage change

1973

3747

na

1974

5369

43

1975

4461

-17

1976

2527

-43

1977

3809

51

1978

2062

-46

1979

1683

-18

1980

1878

12

1981

2754

47

1982

2672

-3

1983

2752

3

1984

2368

-14

1985

3007

27

1986

3048

1

1987

5394

77

1988

5695

6

1989

5759

1

1990

5849

2

1991

5686

-3

1992

4783

-16

1993

4284

-10

1994

4317

1

Total

83904

 

Av 73–94

3814

 

Av 80–86

2640

 

Av 87–94

5221

 

Av 87–90

5674

 


Source: Current Economic Statistics, various


However, as Chetty and Prasad (1993) and Bedford (1989) have argued forcefully, official emigration data grossly underestimate the level of emigration in the post coups period for the reasons already identified.

Table 2 attempts to redress this problem by presenting data on implied emigration. In column three, implied emigration refers the difference between resident departures and arrivals, while column six presents the difference between three-year moving average resident departures and arrivals. It is clear that government data based on declared emigrants consistently and significantly underestimate the true extent of emigration.

According to Table 2, between 1962 and 1994, nearly 141,000 people emigrated from Fiji, representing 30 per cent of the total population of Fiji in 1966. There was an unmistakable and dramatic increase in emigration after the coups. In the eight years from 1979–1986, 38,916 people emigrated from Fiji, averaging 4865 per year. Between 1987 and 1994, however, 65,864 people emigrated, an increase of 69 per cent. The average yearly emigration in this period also increased dramatically from 4865 between 1979–86 to 8233 in the post-coups period (Table 2). The contrasts in emigration using declared status (Table 1) and implied emigration (Table 2) are particularly noteworthy. Between 1987–1994, government data indicated a total emigration of 41,767 while implied emigration is 65,864 or almost 58 per cent more.


Table 2: Implied migration from Fiji, 1962-1994

Indirect measure of emigration from Fiji

Year

Resident departures

Resident arrivals

Implied emigration

Percentage change

Implied emigration 2

1962

6363

6351

12.00

   

1963

8038

7475

563.00

4591.70

 

1964

8399

9219

-820.00

-245.6

-82.00

1965

10828

10592

236.00

-128.8

-7.00

1966

12239

11383

856.00

262.70

91.00

1967

14565

14244

321.00

-62.50

471.00

1968

11390

10092

1298.00

304.40

825.00

1969

12660

11717

943.00

-27.30

854.00

1970

16836

14003

2833.00

200.40

1691.00

1971

18657

16626

2031.00

-28.30

1936.00

1972

20637

18005

2632.00

29.60

2499.00

1973

26667

21796

4871.00

85.10

3178.00

1974

30372

25495

4877.00

0.10

4127.00

1975

28597

24450

4147.00

-15.00

4632.00

1976

29026

24671

4355.00

5.00

4460.00

1977

28597

25687

2910.00

-33.20

3804.00

1978

31569

27499

4070.00

39.90

3778.00

1979

33937

30078

3859.00

-5.20

3613.00

1980

35089

31304

3785.00

-1.90

3905.00

1981

37053

32310

4743.00

25.30

4,129.00

1982

37445

32427

5018.00

5.80

4,515.00

1983

36996

33050

3946.00

-21.40

4,569.00

1984

40747

35965

4782.00

21.20

4,582.00

1985

44236

38043

6193.00

29.50

4,974.00

1986

46958

40368

6590.00

6.40

5,855.00

1987

58563

40204

18359.00

178.60

10,381.00

1988

55401

44727

10674.00

-41.90

11,874.00

1989

59201

49814

9387.00

-12.10

12,807.00

1990

60700

54895

5805.00

-38.10

8,622.00

1991

64593

58632

5961.00

2.70

7,051.00

1992

61410

57023

4387.00

-26.40

5,384.00

1993

63511

58495

5016.00

14.30

5,121.00

1994

64477

58202

6275.00

25.10

5,226.00

Total

1115757

974842

140915.00

 

134,864.00

Av. 1968–94

33811

29541

4270.00

   

Av. 1970–86

31966

27752

4214.00

   

Av 1979–86

39058

34193

4865.00

   

Av. 1987–94

60982

52749

8233.00

   

Total 1979–86

312461

273545

38916.00

   

Total 1987–94

487856

421992

65864.00

   

Source: Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Tourism and Migration Statistics, various; 1962–1974 data from Jones 1976: Appendix A.


Where do Fiji’s emigrants go? In 1994, Australia was the most significant destination of Fijian migrants, taking 34 per cent of the emigrants, followed closely by the United States of America and Canada with 23–24 per cent, and New Zealand (16 per cent) (Figure 1). These four countries received 96 per cent of all Fijian emigrants.


Figure 1: The direction of movement of Fiji Emigrants (declared), 1994


Figure 1


The direction of movement of Fiji emigrants has changed over time (Figure 2). An indication of the changed situation is given by the destinations of emigrants in 1975, when Canada took just over 50 per cent of all emigrants from Fiji, followed at some distance by the United States (18 per cent). Australia then took only 14 per cent.


Figure 2: The changing destinations of Fiji Emigrants, 1973–1994


Figure 2


Source:
Unpublished data from Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 1996.


    C. Composition of Emigrants

(1) Gender
Gender has generally not been highlighted in analyses of Fiji emigration. More females than males appear to be emigrating from Fiji: between 1987 and November 1995 females compromised 52 per cent of all citizen emigrants. Information is not available on the marital status of emigrants to gauge the extent of emigrants getting married abroad, although this is known to be relatively important.

(2) Ethnic Composition
Indo-Fijians comprised the overwhelming proportion of emigrants (91 per cent) between 1987 and 1995, indigenous Fijians comprising only 6 per cent. However, recent data released by the Australian government (BIMPR 1995, p. 36), suggests that indigenous Fijian emigration may be larger than indicated above. In 1991, indigenous Fijians comprised as high as 14 per cent of all Fiji-born people in Australia. Further research is needed to determine whether official data on indigenous Fijian emigration are accurate; why Australia should be such an important destination; and whether in fact data obtained in Fiji on emigration are directly comparable with data in Australia.

For the Indo-Fijians emigrating, factors such as political uncertainty, lack of security for land, and the current overall discriminatory treatment are all thought to be important underlying reasons for their high levels of emigration. There are also important pull factors, such as the education of children and generally higher standard of living in destination countries. Emigration could also be seen as a holding situation. Improvements in the political and economic climate could see a not insignificant number of Indo-Fijians, enhanced by overseas experience, return to Fiji.

(3) Skill Groups
Figure 3 presents the skill composition of emigrants from Fiji between 1987 and November 1995. Emigration has had a devastating impact on the stock of skills in Fiji (Table 3). Between 1987 and November 1995, high proportions of the 1986 stock in various skills areas were lost to emigration. Almost three-quarters of the administrative and managerial workers, nearly one-half of production workers, and nearly one-quarter of professional and technical and clerical workers had emigrated during the period.


Figure 3: The skill composition of Fiji emigrants, 1987 to November 1995


Figure 3


Source:
Unpublished data from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 1996.


Table 4 presents data on occupations where more than a third of the 1986 stock of personnel have been lost to emigration. Table 4 is noteworthy not only because of the large number of occupations where losses of this magnitude had taken place, but also because of the extremely high level of losses in strategic areas.


Table 3: The magnitude of skill losses due to emigration, 1987-November 1995

Occupational category

1986

Number emigrated

Per cent of 1986 stock

Professional, technical and related

17 774

4 500

25.3

Administrative and managerial

2 766

2 043

73.5

Clerical and related

15 569

4 267

27.4

Sales workers

14 861

1 210

8.1

Service workers

15 422

822

5.3

Agricultural, animal husbandry and forestry workers and fishermen

105 924

957

0.9

Production workers, transport equipment operators and labourers

68 844

30 720

44.6

Workers not classifiable by occupation

20 891

9 154

43.8

Total

241 160

44 510

18.5


Source
: Calculated from unpublished data from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.


Almost 86 per cent of all 1986 stock of accountants, and 67 per cent of statisticians, mathematicians and system analyst. All these areas are of critical importance, and the cost of losses of this magnitude can only have been colossal, creating an acute bottleneck to rapid and sustainable economic growth.


Table 4: Skill areas in which more than one-third of the 1986 stock has emigrated, 1986-November 1995

Area

1986 stock

Number emigrated

1986

Architects, engineers and related technicians

1901

1026

54.0

Statisticians, mathematicians and system analysts

155

104

67.1

Economists

32

16

50.0

Accountants

1178

712

60.4

Managers

2246

1917

85.4

Clerical supervisors

299

173

57.9

Computing machine operators

350

204

58.3

Technical salesmen, commercial travellers and manufacturers agents

173

68

39.3

Hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and related workers

188

63

33.5


Source
: Data from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 1996. Percentages calculated by the authors.


    D. Studies Undertaken So Far

On the whole, emigration has not received the scholarly attention in Fiji that it has received in other countries. The first detailed study of emigration was by Jones (1976), in which she used immigration cards to analyse aspects of emigration manually for a BA research paper at the University of the South Pacific.

She found that emigration ‘take off’ was between 1966–1969, the average annual net migration (difference between arrivals/departures of residents) rising to 855 (Jones 1976, p. 9). The rate of emigration increased sharply immediately after independence reaching a peak in 1973. Jones also found that the majority of emigrants were young, either young married couples, students, or the children of older migrants (Jones 1976, p. 21). In a significant finding, she reported that the vast majority (about one-half) of emigrants originated from Suva, the capital city (Jones 1976, p. 22). The majority of emigrants were Indo-Fijians (Jones 1976, p. 28).

The next major study of emigration was undertaken by Connell (1985) as part of a wider study of migration, employment and development in the South Pacific. As early as 1986, Connell was writing that:

    for more than a decade, emigration from Fiji has had enormous significance; and especially the emigration of Indians, mainly to North America (primarily to Canada (Connell 1985, p. 48).

Connell provided an historical discussion of emigration, discussed the level and direction of emigration, and surveyed the consequences of movement. He pointed to the significant skills losses from emigration.

    The most striking conclusion on the impact of international migration from Fiji is that it constituted a very substantial skill and brain drain (Connell 1985, p. 53).

Bedford (1989) presented a detailed account of Fijian migration to New Zealand, prefaced by remarks on the magnitude of emigration from Fiji generally. He highlighted the impact of the two coups on emigration to New Zealand: ‘57 per cent of the total net gain of around 10,700 during the 1980s is accounted for during the period April 1987 to March 1980 (Bedford 1989, p. 147). Bedford also discussed the gender and age characteristics of migrants as well as the categories under which migrants entered New Zealand.

Forsyth (1991) studied migration and remittance in the South Pacific Forum Island Countries (FICs) for the South Pacific Forum Secretariat. Fiji was one of the countries studied and it was by far the most significant source of migrants to Australia and New Zealand from FICs (Forsyth 1991, p. 37). In terms of remittances, Forsyth found that Fiji showed large net negative flows, as high as F$33 million in 1990 (Forsyth 1991, p. 44).

The most recent study of emigration is provided by Chetty and Prasad (1993). This study breaks new ground by making the best use of primary data, and by highlighting the serious economic implications of high levels of recent emigration.

Chetty and Prasad discuss the magnitude of emigration and its labour market and other consequences. They make a contribution to the methodology for studying emigration, pointing to the inadequacy of relying on data on formal emigration. They provide detailed analyses of skill losses to Fiji due to emigration, and include case studies of teachers and workers in the sugar industry.

There has been only one serious study of Fiji emigrants in their new home. Buchignani (various) studied the process of Fijian migration to Canada and their experience in the host society. In a significant new addition to the literature on emigration from Fiji, the recently released community profile on Fiji born people (Australian Bureau of Immigration Multicultural and Population Research 1995) is a useful document that indicates the number of Fiji emigrants in Australia, and describes their spatial distribution, gender and age, family status, propensity to obtain citizenship, labour force status, occupation, and income. The profile documents a dramatic increase in the number of Fiji-born people in Australia: from about 15,000 in 1986 to over 31,000 in 1991 (ABIMPR 1995, p. 3). This confirms our earlier data from Fiji on the dramatic increase in emigration as a whole due to the coups of 1987.

    E. Lacunae in Research

Other than the work by Jones (1976), migration research in Fiji has not sought to identify the actual geographic source of emigrants, which is an important consideration if only due to local losses of skilled labour. The loss of one doctor in a small town clearly has more impact than a similar loss in a larger urban centre, for instance. There has been some speculation that emigration has reduced the rate of urbanisation. Jones had found that emigrants came overwhelmingly from Suva, but no recent study has dealt with the spatial origin of migrants. Further research needs to identify the immediate spatial origin of migrants, to establish whether there is step migration from rural areas to Suva and from there to other countries, and to consider spatial differentiation in the impact of emigration.

The second lacunae in research has been the personal or group characteristics of migrants. We know little about their age, marital status, or family composition.

Little is known also of the actual process of migration. How is the process initiated? How important are the various categories of emigration: independent migration, business migration, family re-union, or migration through marriage?

Research on migration says nothing on migration decision-making. There have been no empirical studies but much speculation on why people migrate. Considering the magnitude of emigration, its effects, and the need for appropriate policy responses, the absence of sound analysis of emigration decision-making is an extremely serious shortcoming.

One further glaring research lacunae relates to the lack of any (recent) study of Fiji emigrants in their host societies. Statistical profiles are needed for New Zealand, Canada and the United States, together with more in-depth studies covering employment education, stability of the family, and wider integration in the host communities.

Research is also needed into the linkages which former residents of Fiji maintain with Fiji. Such linkages should be explored beyond the normal studies of remittances which themselves are inadequately captured in the case of Fiji. Detailed interviews with former residents are needed to yield useful information on issues such as the number of visits undertaken to Fiji; visits from Fiji relatives and friends; remittances in cash and its use; remittances in kind; frequency of telephone and other contacts; the number of family members sponsored by emigrants; involvement in Fiji affairs; and the likely permanence or impermanence of emigration. Work is also needed on return migration which anecdote evidence suggests is of some importance.

Nandan (1995) has highlighted the separation of immediate families as they try to come to terms with leaving and remaining in Fiji; the scattering of the family; difficulties of getting the family together at crucial moments (such as relating to deaths and marriages); and the difficulties the older members of the families have in the new environment. But more work is needed on the human dimensions of emigration, especially the human cost of emigration related to the two coups of 1987.

Finally, although Forsyth’s (1991) report provides data on (negative) remittances from Fiji, there has been no study showing the full economic cost of the brain drain. Useful research could be undertaken identifying these losses to Fiji (and gains to receiving countries) from the emigration of highly skilled people.

    F. Migration Issues in Fiji

Migration in Fiji has evoked differing responses. The government, by and large, has shown little concern. In the past, when the Indo-Fijian population exceeded that of ethnic Fijians the then government saw emigration as helping the prospects of the ruling Alliance party (because all ethnic groups voted together in national constituencies and these often determined the outcome of national elections), and increasing the prospects of the ethnic Fijian population gaining numerical superiority. More recently, the departure of many highly skilled Indo-Fijians has created opportunities for the rapid upward mobility of many indigenous Fijians who now dominate the civil service. The present government has on occasions called for former residents to return to Fiji, but their call has been directed mainly at ethnic Fijians.

A second type of response to emigration has highlighted its economic cost, especially as impact on the government’s declared objective of promoting rapid economic growth. The most recent World Bank report (World Bank 1995, p. 23) typifies these concerns:

    This outflow imposes huge costs to (sic) the economy, both in terms of the direct low investment in human capital and lost future earnings. Fitting the jobs with expatriate workers can cost anywhere from 2–4 times the cost of a local worker, and further reduces the competitiveness of the Fijian economy.

More positively, migration in Fiji is sometimes seen as a safety valve in a situation where formal job creation has fallen seriously short of the number of fresh entrants to the labour force: about 1500 jobs per annum relative to about 13,000 school leavers.

Some government spokespersons see emigration as evidence of lack of loyalty and commitment to Fiji by Indo-Fijians. Indo-Fijians resent this accusation and trace the causes of emigration to the unfair constitution, discrimination, lack of clear commitment by the government to multi-racial equality, and lack of land and land tenure security for rural Indo-Fijians who still dominate the sugar industry.

    G. Conclusions

This paper has discussed the level, direction, and composition of emigration from Fiji highlighting the dramatic increase in emigration in the wake of the two military coups of 1987. Most migrants are Indo Fijians and many are highly skilled. Emigration has caused Fiji to lose a large stock of its key skilled personnel, which must raise serious concerns about the prospects for increasing the speed or quality of economic development.

The paper has also pointed to a number of serious gaps in our knowledge of emigration in areas such as individual and family motivation, spatial origin of migrants, the actual migration process, the links maintained between migrants and Fiji, and the monetary costs to Fiji.

Although the level of emigration has decreased since the immediate post-coups years lack of progress in resolving fundamental issues affecting the Indo-Fijian population, such as the development of an acceptable constitution and land leases, and a recent sensationalised reporting of plans by indigenous Fijians to take over the sugar cane industry by the year 2000, could well lead to a further upsurge in emigration in the future.

    References

    Australian Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research 1995 Community Profiles 1991 Census: Fiji Born, Suva Australian Government Publishing Service, Suva.

    Bedford, R.D. 1989 ‘Out of Fiji... a perspective on migration after the coups’, Pacific Viewpoint Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 142–53.

    Buchignani, N.L. 1979, ‘The effects of Canadian immigration on the political economy of Fiji’, in Mehmet, O. ed. Poverty and Social Change in South East Asia. Uni of Ottawa Press, Ottawa.

    Buchignani, N.L. 1972, ‘Immigration, adaptation and the management of ethnic identities: an examination of Fijian East Indians in British Columbia’. Unpublished PhD theses, Fraser University, Vancouver.

    Chandra, Rajesh & Bryant, Jenny eds, 1990, Population of Fiji. South Pacific Commission, Noumea.

    Chetty, N.K. & Prasad, S. 1993, Fiji’s Emigration: An Examination of Contemporary Trend and Issues, Demographic Report No. 4 Population Studies Program, School of Social and Economic Development, University of South Pacific, Suva.

    Connell, John ed. 1990, Migration and Development in the South Pacific. Pacific Research Monograph No 24. National Centre for Development Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.

    Connell, John ed. 1985, Migration, Employment and Development in the South Pacific Country Report No 4 Fiji. South Pacific Commission, Noumea.

    Fiji Bureau of Statistics 1992, Fiji Tourism and Migration Statistics 1989. Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Suva.

    Fiji Bureau of Statistics various, Current Economic Statistics. Bureau of Statistics, Suva.

    Fiji Bureau of Statistics 1995, Statistical News, No. 41.

    Forsyth, David J.C. 1991, ‘Migration and remittance in the South Pacific Forum Island Countries’, Unpublished report prepared for the South Pacific Forum Secretariat.

    Hayes, Geoffrey 1991, ‘Migration, metascience, and development policy in Island Polynesia’, Contemporary Pacific, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1–58.

    Jones, Sister Catherine 1976, ‘Emigration from Fiji’. Unpublished BA Research Paper School of Social and Economic Development, University of South Pacific.

    Kunabuli, Paula 1990, ‘Population emigration from Fiji’, in Chandra, Rajesh & Bryant Jenny, eds, Population of Fiji: pp. 180–94. South Pacific Commission, Noumea.

    Nandan, Satendra 1995, ‘Migration, dispossession, exile and the diasporic consciousness of the body politic of Fiji’. A paper given at the Triennial Conference of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, University of Waikato Hamilton, New Zealand, 11–14 December 1995.

    Walsh, A.C. & Trlin, A.D. 1972, ‘Niuean migration: Niuean socio-economic background characteristics of migrants and settlement in Auckland’, Journal of Polynesia Society Vol. 82, No. 1.

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