Immigrants – Acceptance and Denial

Posted on July 12, 2010

By Shivani Ghildiyal:

For years now, free trade and free movement of capital have been respectable economic tenets, espoused, if sometimes reluctantly, by most politicians. But no sane politician, would advocate free movement of labour. As a result, most people are trapped in their native lands, never likely to have a legal opportunity to see the outside world.

There are several books which stoutly defend globalisation. One such book is ‘IMMIGRANTS: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS THEM’.

It advocates open borders. It believes that it will, on balance, enrich both sending and receiving countries; the reason being, diversity makes life more interesting and detests bureaucratic restrictions on human freedom.

“Immigrants are not an invading army”. They come in search of a better life. They are no different from one who moves from Ahmedabad to Bangalore or Bihar to Delhi, because that is where jobs are. Except that a border lies in the way.

Contradicting the economic arguments against immigration is easy in case of skilled migrants. But the immigrants who arrive in the back of the lorries and huddled in small boats are unskilled. For them, there are hardly any legal tracks actross the border and they too bring economic benifits and little or no harm to the wages and employment of native workers. As for the impact on sending countries, many now gain more from remittances than from official aid or inward investment. One Government Minister from Philippines said -“Overseas employment has built more homes,sent more children of the poor to school  and established more business enterprises, than all the other programmes of the government put together.”

There are no official observations regarding immigrants holding back the pay of the poorest. A better economic case is rebutting the argument that taxpayers give willigly only to those whom they feel some kinship and that immigration, therefore, jeopardizes the support for the welfare state. Willingness to pay taxes to support the poor is independent of the levels of immigration.

Through this book,the immigrants are encouraged to go home after a period of working abroad. If immigration was temporary, native people will tolerate it more readily. So the immigrants should be made to sign a bond on arrival. Or have a portion of their wages withheld, until they leave.

But hospitality to immigrants is  not just about economics. It is based on fear of change and on racism. It has also, since the world trade centre attacks, been based on growing worries about Muslim terrorism. Such anxities are not easily assuaged by economic logic. It is striking, for example, how very few serious protests there were in Britain at the absorption of over 5,00,000 East European immigrants in the 2 year from may 2004 to 2006. Surely, at least 1 reason was that these white Christian Europeans look and think extraordinarily like most British people. By contrast, many Muslim immigrants and their children have become more estranged.

For the Government, the tricky question is who to let in. And how to define a coherent policy? The harsh truth is that natives find it easier to accept immigrants who look and behave as they do than those who are different. This as a basis for policy, still leaves most of the mankind outside the gates.

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