Study Claims Emigration Key To Improving Tonga Economy

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Tonga faces falling remittances, low employment opportunities

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 4, 2013) – Emigration is invaluable to Tonga if its economy is to improve, according to a new Labour Market study on the demand for skills training in Tonga.

The study by Asian Development Bank (ADB) Consultant and Advisor, Richard Curtain strongly suggests emigration as an essential avenue to increase employment and remittances to Tonga, and shows that job opportunities are decreasing locally.

He estimated that only 26 percent of the population above 15 years of age had a paid job with an employer and that a current youth bulge is putting pressure on Tonga's economy to "provide more jobs than it is doing now."

Even more drastic is the current rate of employment that Tonga will have to maintain in the coming years when, according to Curtain, the economy "would have to create over 1,100 additional jobs by 2015, and 1,700 by 2020 to keep the same rate of employment as now."

There was also a large a gap between the "number of young people with formal education and the number of available jobs.

"The number of jobs requiring middle-level skills has fallen over the five years to 2011. The numbers of technicians and associate professionals have decreased by 419 or 21 percent. Skilled agricultural and fishery workers have decreased by 798 or 8 percent. Craft and trades workers have decreased by 1,982 or 17 percent. This follows a trend noted in many other countries."


Emigration is vital to economic growth because of remittances. Money sent to Tonga from overseas has long been a life line for Tonga’s economy as Tonga has failed to develop a dominant export and tourism industry.

However, remittances have fallen significantly. According to the study remittances "continued a prolonged decline by 23 percent in the financial year 2011-12". The decline along with exports and tourism was attributed to the global recession, which continues to cause serious financial and employment problems for major world economies

Although Emigration remains high with about 10,000 Tongans emigrating since 2006 "relatively few Tongan migrants to New Zealand in the past 15 years have gained entry on the basis of the skills they hold," he reported.

The study shows that skilled migration to meet global demands would boost employment for Tongans overseas.

The irony of education opportunities and global recession in New Zealand and Australia is that employers complain of a lack of suitable workers. Statistics showed a high demand in skilled migrants across New Zealand, Australia and the United States with an "extraordinary growth in skilled migration to New Zealand and Australia, through both permanent and temporary entry."

"The jobs Australian employers are having the greatest difficulty in filling are: skilled trade workers, engineers, sales representatives, accounting & finance staff, IT staff, management, technicians, drivers, mechanics, and chefs/cooks."

"One-in-five New Zealand employers and one-in-four Australian employers report that they are willing to look outside their own region and country for suitable workers," the report stated.

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