Written by Kamakshi Anand, a grade 11 student.
Is it in the best interest of the international community as well as individual nation-states to open all borders for immigration?
Is Global Freedom a pipe dream? If it is, then what of the World Trade Organisation’s “Free Trade” initiatives? If not, how can it exist? The question still lies in a dilemma – should it exist? Why and what are we so afraid of?
Immigration is directly associated with the search for a better life. A large number of migrants come from underdeveloped countries, moving to developed or developing countries. Defined as “the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country”, we must understand the roots of immigration and the current trends with respect to what history recounts as tales of colonisation. The human race is a result of (exodus) migration and subsequent natural selection. Immigration can be traced back to the British moving to India and establishing themselves in our society. But we cannot call them immigrants, because they were colonisers, seeking to impose themselves instead of adapting to the existing culture which is quite the opposite of what we witness, now. Immigrants who move to countries like the United States or the United Kingdom adapt and morph to fit in Western society. Generations later, it is hard to distinguish those with immigrant roots from the “pure-blooded” ones. Immigration allows a country to flourish in a way that trade allows the market to; it ensures greater interaction and diversity to colour what would otherwise be an alienated and divided world, isolated in its progress.
We’ve often come across the sentiment “freedom is for the rich” and to a large extent, that seems to be the case. Let’s go back to the days of the Roman Empire where citizenship, that is, freedom (and respect) could be bought from the state. Slavery and poverty often went hand in hand. Today, the world’s richest can buy citizenship in many countries. For eg. Cyprus offers citizenship for a €2 million investment, Portugal offers full residency for a mere €500,000 investment and the UK offers a similar scheme in exchange for a £2 million investment. To say that money is a measure of capability would be to have education account for skill or talent. Am I saying that borders should be abolished? No. Should they be more open? Preferably but not uniformly. Let me explain. If we were to ask a densely populated country like India to open its borders to all migrants, we would be asking the country to put a greater strain on its existing scarce resources, which would not benefit anybody but would only feed the defences that the conservatives have— immigration will increase poverty. Now, if the same was to be asked of the United States of America, it would be a feasible demand. The National academy of Sciences opines the same. According to it, “immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth”. But can all countries afford this economic growth?
We demand equality. We crave for it. And we must have it. But not when it comes to immigration. All countries cannot afford the cost of open borders and shouldn’t have to if it threatens the lives of those who already reside in the respective countries. Countries that have surplus capital like the United States, Germany, Canada, etc. can and should have open borders. Open borders do not mean abolishing borders, but borders with minimal restrictions on the movement of goods/people. Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason, has offered “keyhole” solutions to answer questions on immigration. “If immigrants hurt American workers, we can charge immigrants higher taxes or admission fees, and use the revenue to compensate the losers,” he wrote. “If immigrants burden American taxpayers, we can make immigrants ineligible for benefits. If immigrants hurt American culture, we can impose tests of English fluency and cultural literacy. If immigrants hurt American liberty, we can refuse to give them the right to vote. Whatever your complaint happens to be, immigration restrictions are a needlessly draconian remedy.”
On the other hand, densely populated countries like India that have surplus labour and are capital deficient must not open their borders. The India-Nepal open border is a prime example of the strain on resources that poorly regulated borders can cause. India has a large youth population that is eligible and skilled but unemployed due to a lack of opportunities. The uneducated labour class that works as domestic help has lost its employment due to Nepalis who speak English and are hence seen as more “suitable” and “sophisticated” for the job. The blame is, although, subconsciously borne by these immigrants, the government is also accountable for the current state of affairs. As a result of a lack of employment and a potential waste of potential, Indians are immigrating to western countries. Another contributing factor to the current numbers of immigrants from India is the stereotypical mindset that drives westernisation. A deep-rooted stigma in Indian society is the judgment of education, sophistication, and “eliteness” by ticking the box of fluent English speakers and western outlook. Many upper-class persons, hence, prefer to reside abroad and immigrate. In such a situation, it would make sense for India to have the policy of paid citizenship because it needs capital for economic growth more than labour and not further compromise the already low unemployment opportunities.
According to a UN report on migration trends, India is, unsurprisingly, the largest country of origin of international migrants with the top destination of migration being the USA. The USA remains so due to its favourable government policies that now, seem to be taking a turn in the opposite direction for a multitude of reasons and this change in the wind is not proving profitable as the conservatives hoped or even implied. From the available demographic data of the USA, it is clear that the US population is shrinking and aging at an alarming rate and if such a trend was to continue, it would greatly affect programs like Social Security and Medicare that require an economically active tax base. Leftists continue to push for open borders with the argument that the US in fact, needs more immigrants, not simply to feed a cultural curiosity but to maintain the current levels of economic growth and welfare provisions. Economists’ consensus estimate is that open borders would roughly double world GDP, enough to virtually eliminate global poverty (Clemens 2011). The view that conservatives hold very close to their hearts, in most cases, is flawed because it chooses to ignore the sciences, be it social or environmental.
A popular point made in favour of immigration restrictions is that without them, the supply of labour would drastically increase and wages would subsequently fall. Studies have indicated that an increase in immigration may actually lead to an increase in native wages. Ottaviano and Peri (2008: 59) conclude that immigration from 1990–2006 raised average native wages by 0.6 percent. A humane alternative to restricted migration was suggested by Bryan Caplan: Charge immigrants surtaxes and/or admission fees, then use the extra revenue to compensate low-skilled Americans. For example, you could issue green cards to Haitians who agree to perpetually pay a 50 per- cent surtax on top of their ordinary U.S. tax liability.
Donald Trump’s America seems to be headed in an undesired direction by restricting legal immigration and promising to complete the US-Mexico border wall. It is not just Trump who finds immigrants and refugees as a plague. Germany has an anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany. On both sides of the Atlantic, this dark and flawed portrayal of immigrants has birthed a multitude of misconceptions. A recent study by Citi Global Perspectives and Solutions concluded that migrants are directly responsible for two thirds of U.S. economic growth since 2011. In a 2011 study, Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, showed that eliminating barriers to freedom of movement would increase global GDP by an estimated 50 to 150 per cent. A conservative estimate of this sums up to about $78 trillion.
If borders were open, how many people would up sticks? Gallup, a pollster, estimated in 2013 that 630m people—about 13% of the world’s population—would migrate permanently if they could, and even more would move temporarily. Some 138 million would settle in the United States, 42 million in Britain, and 29 million in Saudi Arabia. They are likely to make the world richer by $78 trillion.
If the world can be a richer place and also a freer and humane one, is it not worth a try? This is a case, not for worldwide open borders but for open borders in countries with less population density and huge capital. Uninvited guests are unwelcome but what if they come bearing gifts?
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