Upcoming Open Borders events

There will be a few events related to open borders in the near future. These are not organized by openborders.info, but by others we know.

Weekly OBAG roundup 10 2014

This is part of a series of weekly posts with the most interesting content from the Open Borders Action Group on Facebook. Do join the group to weigh in on existing discussions or start your own (you might want to read this post before joining).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical and current situations

Outreach and meta

What does the future hold for asylees in Australia?

I am a optimist when it comes to the future for Australia. The island nation of twenty three million souls is located far away from any geopolitical troubles with opposing polities. It has been gifted with British legal and economic institutions that have allowed it to enjoy stable economic growth throughout its existence.

It does face one major problem though: demographics. Despite its large expanse the continent’s population is slightly smaller than New York’s metropolitan area. The traditional argument had been that Australia is incapable of housing a larger population due to natural resource limitations. There is some in truth in this argument. Much of the continent’s arable land is in the southeastern portion of the continent and this is where most of the current population huddles around.

However limited natural resources are an insufficient explanation for why the continent has such a small population when one considers the large populations of resource starved Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. It is more likely that Australia’s population has been held back by restrictive immigration measures instead of any natural resource limitations. Since before it attained its independence Australia pursued a ‘White Australia‘ policy that only allowed white migrants. The White Australia policy was promoted out of mix of citizenism and partly as a geopolitical measure. Australia is remote enough that it is extremely doubtful any foreign power could ever invade it, but open borders would likely see those of Asian descent quickly outnumber the current white population. For some this result would be little different than an invasion even if the new Asian migrants assimilated to Australian culture or political life.

The White Australia policy was dismantled gradually and officially removed in 1978 when the country’s immigration laws were reformed. As I have written elsewhere, Australia today enjoys some of the most liberal immigration laws when it comes to mid and high skilled migrants thanks to these reforms. It would however be wrong to praise the Australian immigration system without addressing its short comings elsewhere.

The White Australia policy has not been official policy for over three decades but the lack of a viable method for low-skilled workers to enter has acted to effectively perpetuate discrimination against non-whites. In its defense the Australian government policies discriminate against low-skilled migrants. Further research on Australia should attempt to see admission rates of skilled migrants from non-white and white countries alike to see if there is any significant statistical difference  between the two ceteris paribus. Is Australia discriminating against low skilled migrants as a round about way of keeping out non-whites? Or has Australia genuinely moved away from the past injustices of the White Australia policy?Unlawful Non-Citizens by Source Country

If Australia were closer to its neighbors it would likely house a large illegal immigration population from its poorer neighbors. Thanks to its geographic remoteness though the country has only 60,900 illegal aliens as of 2012, equal to less than .3% of its total population. The overwhelming number of these entered on a legal visa and as the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection points out, “most UNCs [Unlawful Non-Citizens] only overstay their visa for a short period and then depart voluntarily.” As such the long term illegal alien population should be assumed to be a small fraction of the figures presented here.

Instead of attempting to enter unlawfully would-be migrants attempt to apply for asylum. Most of these asylum seekers use Indonesia as a launching pad and thereafter ride on rafts or small boats with the hope of reaching Australia’s jurisdiction in order to apply for asylum. Unfortunately some of these rafts are stopped by Australian naval forces, sink at sea due to unfavorable weather conditions, or otherwise never reach Australia. Looking at Australia’s humanitarian migration statistics gives us some idea of who these asylum seekers are. Unsurprisingly most are low skilled migrants fleeing war and poverty ridden countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

One would hope that Australia would welcome asylees, but thus far its politicians have sought to increase the difficulty involved in applying for asylum. Throughout its history with asylum seekers the Australian government has sought to process them offshore in neighboring third countries like Nauru or Papua New Guinea. The logic for offshore processing is that it discourages asylum seekers from coming if they believe they will be stuck in a resettlement camp, away from any legal aid or reliable humanitarian aid, for an indefinite period while their applications are processed.

If offshore processing was not enough “Illegal Maritime Arrivals“, as the Australian Department of Immigration refers to asylum seekers, are no longer able to petition for visas for their family under the  humanitarian program. This both discourages asylum seekers and encourages those who do come to make the dangerous trans-oceanic trip with their family in order to avoid being split up. The immigration department has also made it clear that no permanent visa will be granted to illegal maritime arrivals.

In recent years Australia has attempted to push asylees towards resettling in Papua New Guinea. Australian officials assert that Papua New Guinea is a safe third country capable of assisting the asylees. Papua New Guinea’s political elites seem to support the ‘PNG solution’ in exchange for bribes in the form of international aid.

Australia is not the first country to move its asylee population to a third country. The United States and Canada are both parties to a Safe Third Country Agreement which allows them to move refugees between one another to best suit their national interests and the interests of the refugees. The difference here though is that both the United States and Canada are well developed countries with the resources necessary to provide humanitarian services. Papua New Guinea on the other hand is an undeveloped nation whose government is unable to provide adequate services for its current population let alone newcomers. For our US audience this would be comparable to the United States moving its illegal alien population to Haiti. Alternatively for our European audience this would be akin to rounding up irregular migrants from northern Africa and moving them into Syria.

Illegal immigrants in the United States have support among the larger migrant community, from sympathetic natives, the governments of their source countries, and in recent years have grown in sufficient affluence that they are capable of advocating on their own behalf. The support system for Australian asylees is not yet so developed.

Indonesia, which acts as the launching point for most of these asylees,  is attempting to persuade Australia to be more welcoming of asylees and has even appealed to the United Nations for help. Some even hope that the United States Secretary of State John Kerry might intervene, but it is doubtful that the secretary will do so. Australia may not be considered a world power, but it is easily the dominant Oceanic power in both economic and military terms. This means that no neighboring power can easily use diplomacy to convince Australian politicians to reform their asylee policies.

Table 7-2: Country of birth of Australia’s overseas born population, 1996 and 2011.

A little over a quarter of Australia’s population is foreign born and ordinarily this might encourage politicians to adopt more friendly policies towards asylees and migrants as a whole. Sadly most of the country’s migrants are from the United Kingdom or New Zealand who enjoy relaxed migration proceedings and therefore have little interest in campaigning on behalf of letting in low skilled asylees in.

As the above table from the Australian government’s latest migration trend paper shows, there is a growing number of Indians and Chinese migrants who might better sympathize with the plight of the asylees but even here it is unclear if this is enough to ferment the creation of an Australian open borders movement since these migrants tend to be high skilled and therefore enjoy a relatively warm welcome compared to low skilled migrants. It would be fruitful for future research on the situation in Australia to see what the attitudes of migrant Chinese and Indians are towards the prospect of relaxing migration rules for low skilled migrants.

None of this should be taken to mean that Australia’s higher skilled migrants do not seek any sort of immigration reform. Kiwis, those of New Zealand descent and Australia’s second largest migrant group, are starting to demand better treatment when migrating. However Kiwis are not fighting over the right to adobe in Australia, they enjoy that privilege thanks to the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement. Kiwis are fighting to regain their preferred status in Australian immigration law and welfare benefits.

Previously Kiwis were effectively treated little different from native Australians when it came to welfare benefits but these benefits were removed in 2001 and Kiwis must now seek full citizenship if they wish to regain their access to Australia’s welfare programs. Kiwis also previously enjoyed a special pathway to Australian citizenship but due to the aforementioned 2001 agreement they must now apply for permanent residency and apply to citizenship like other migrants. Kiwi migrants and asylees may both want immigration reform in Australia but their goals are so different that it is unlikely that they will become political allies in the near future. If the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement were ever in serious danger of being repealed then we might see a larger pro-migrant political alliance form.

In summary I have high hopes for Australia’s future but am less optimistic about the possibility of it adopting a viable entryway for low skilled asylees. I am a bit more optimistic that Kiwi demands will be met. Australia is by no means an anti-migrant country. It has a large foreign born population in both raw numbers and as a percentage of the total population. It also has one of the easiest methods to allow mid and high skilled migrants to enter for temporary work or to be become long term Australian citizens. The Australian people should be proud to have such policies and one could only hope the United States follows Australia’s example on those issues. Alas open borders aren’t truly open if we restrict entrance to those who most benefit from migration!

Weekly OBAG roundup 09 2014

This is part of a series of weekly posts with the most interesting content from the Open Borders Action Group on Facebook. Do join the group to weigh in on existing discussions or start your own (you might want to read this post before joining).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical and current situations

Outreach and meta

Wielding Power

In the third issue of Wielding Power, the winning essay in response to the question “Should Nations Restrict Immigration?” is written by me. Open Bordersreaders, an intelligent lot as far as I can tell, might consider submitting to future competitions. The editor, Ryan K. Johnson, who blogs here, is an astute reader and critic, open-minded, and a lover of good arguments, who skillfully outlines the arguments of contributors in the margins. Interestingly, all three winners favored open borders! But Ryan Johnson himself doesn’t.

In a blog post introducing the issue and inviting further debate, Johnson offered me this challenge:

Nathan- I’m curious what you think about the risk of political instability or nativist backlash from open borders. Why do you think those aren’t serious concerns?

I wouldn’t say they “aren’t serious concerns,” I’d say that these arguments against open borders are overwhelmed by the case in favor. But it’s worth explaining why I give them limited weight.

“Nativist backlash” might mean different things, ranging from scattered grumbling to ferocious ethnic violence. Grumbling is of minor importance. People grumble about high gas prices and the inconvenience of complying with the tax code, but those are minor problems. Violence, of course, would be a dire concern, but first, I doubt it would come to that, and second, it’s ethically undesirable to reward violence-prone natives by giving them what they want.

My other response to the “nativist backlash” concern is that, as I explain in the article itself, I advocate taxing migration, and using the proceeds to compensate natives, and I think this would be quite effective in defusing nativist backlash. To the complaint, “They’re taking our jobs,” would come the answer, “Yes, but we’re getting checks in the mail from the IRS, financed by their taxes. Some of us may be earning less, but just about everybody’s living standards are higher.” I don’t think that would completely eliminate nativist backlash. Some would just hate to see the streets cluttered by impoverished foreigners. Maybe some would feel that a certain dignity associated with self-reliance had been lost, and that they’d prefer a lower living standard from one’s own wages to a higher living standard financed by foreigners via the government. On the other hand, one would hope that there would be at least some public understanding of the absolutely enormous power of open borders to raise global income and alleviate world poverty, and some pride in being part of that. All in all, if you could get over the huge hurdle of passing open borders (with migration taxes) in the first place, I doubt there would be all that much backlash afterwards.

Political stability is related to nativist backlash, but in some respects a distinct concern. Even if natives were wholly welcoming, on principle, or because they liked getting immigration-financed checks from the government, immigration might lead to political instability because immigrants would make public opinion more fragmented and multipolar, or because they were more prone to extremism, or tolerant of corruption. And since immigrants to a country like the US would be, on average, much poorer than natives at first, they might have an incentive to vote for distribution.

Except that they wouldn’t have the vote for a while. I advocate a rather long-drawn-out path to citizenship, involving mandatory savings which must be accumulated and then forfeited in return for becoming an American. Immigrants under this visa would have an attractive alternative to staying in America: return home, with a good deal of money to start a new life. Those who don’t especially like America, those unwilling or unable to learn the language and assimilate, and those whose economic prospects in America are poor, would probably find it in their best interest to sojourn in America for a few years, then return home to a life of comparative affluence on the money they were forced to save in the US. Those who chose to stay would likely have an economic profile closer to that of natives. How they would vote, I can only speculate; but I doubt they would deviate from natives in a radical or destabilizing way.

Of course, immigrants could destabilize the American polity through street activism or violence. Violence, I consider unlikely. Even if immigrants under open borders numbered well over 100 million, as Gallup has suggested they might (and I agree), they would still be outnumbered by natives, and more importantly, any immigrant group, e.g. based on ethnicity or nationality, would be vastly outnumbered by natives plus other immigrants, who would likely side with natives against violent activism. Fundamentally, immigrants would have agreed to come into the US under certain policies, and while not all of them would continue to accept the legitimacy of those policies, I think most would. People’s promises do generally mean something to them. But if systematic, political violence from immigrants were a clear and present danger, that would be a ground for restricting immigration by the groups most inclined to foment it. As for street activism, that wouldn’t matter much as long as natives are unpersuaded by their protest slogans. If crowds of immigrants march through the streets demanding equal taxes and voting rights, natives can just shrug and say, “Whatever. When you came, you agreed yourself to pay extra taxes and not have the right to vote. You’re a lot better off than you were in Bangladesh. Get over it.”

In his response to my essay in the issue itself, Johnson writes:

Is there no value in the group and its culture?

The short answer here is “Of course there is… but what does that have to do with anything?” I have a network of friends, family, and acquaintances that I value so much, that without them, life would lose much, perhaps most, of its meaning and value. But to suggest that that’s a reason to exclude immigrants is prima facie a complete nonsequitur. How do the immigrants impair my enjoyment of this network of friends at all, let alone significantly? Would they somehow clog the channels of communication, so that I couldn’t send my friends text messages or e-mails? Would they create so much traffic on the roads that I couldn’t visit my friends?

Yet it may the case– here, see Robert Putnam’s work on social capital and immigration— that immigration dilutes the population of people who are enough “like me” to have valuable interactions. Maybe there’s a lot of value in just being able to walk down the street and start socializing with the first person you meet, having enough in common with them to make this feasible and worthwhile. Let in lots of immigrants, and you have to start picking and choosing who to interact with, if you want to avoid the labor of constantly trying to bridge large cultural gaps. Maybe.

But my experience suggests otherwise. There just don’t seem to be many occasions where significant, valuable actions occur that aren’t filtered by some social setting. Thus, I make friends among colleagues, that is, among people selected for profession and institutional affiliation to resemble me. I make friends at my church, that is, I make friends with people self-selected for a highly specific set of beliefs and values. I have friends from grad school, that is, from a selective educational institution which we both attended. Etc.

I have a feeling that fifty years ago, the US was less fissiparous and fragmented, and that a kind of grass-roots solidarity with the neighbors was more of a reality than it is today. We may have paid a high price for that in conformism and the suppression of creativity and authenticity, and a kind of cultural liberation has taken place which has been at once exhilarating and alienating. That may be the reason for my impression that mere neighborhoods are no longer an important kind of community, and the kinds of community that do matter are immune to geographical dispersion. Whether immigration restrictions would be justifiable if neighborhood solidarity were a more important form of community is a large too large a question for me to deal with just now. (But I think not.)

Meanwhile, never forget that immigration restrictions separate groups as well as binding them together (if they actually do the latter at all). Many people are separated from loved ones by borders.