Free Havens for Refugees (mostly by Pieter Cleppe)

Pieter Cleppe, head of the Brussels office of the think tank Open Europe, has written a piece advocating something akin to my idea of passport-free charter cities. (Also see my thoughts on charter city constitutions here and here,  my post about the abortive charter city experiment in Honduras, and my post “Make More Singapores!”) Cleppe advocates “free havens” in response to the recent tragedies in the Mediterranean. The rest of this post is by Cleppe (see the original piece here, it is reprinted with his permission), except a few comments of mine at the end:

Free havens as a solution to the refugee crisis

The latest tragedies in the Mediterranean once again highlight that migration is without any doubt one of the challenging issues of our time. Few dispute that it would be a bad idea to close borders completely. On the other hand, few support opening borders completely, recognising the obvious downsides to this.

The debate mostly focuses on the type and number of immigrants allowed into wealthier societies. There is very little debate about what to do with those wanting to leave their country when even the most generous quotas would have been filled.

Since 2011, 3 million people have already fled Syria, and 6.5 million are internally displaced. The EU hasn’t accepted more than 200.000 of them, while it faces ever increasing numbers of refugees, from Syria and other places, attempting to enter illegally. Even if Western countries drastically increased their willingness to welcome refugees, this would in no way serve demand. Nearly everyone agrees refugees should have the right to flee war-torn countries, but politically, there is no willingness to welcome everyone, whether one agrees with that or not.

The solution proposed below is a humble attempt to launch this debate and provide a more sustainable solution than the ones offered in the past.

One way to deal with this challenge has been to ignore it and to let people sort it out themselves. The result has been that the most vulnerable were delivered to human traffickers, at best reaching the Western world as an illegal immigrant, at worst finding the Mediterranean Sea as their graveyard.

A better solution has been to provide shelter for them in refugee camps. This clearly is an honourable attempt to minimise suffering. There are currently estimated to be up to 50 million refugees. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees offers them protection and life-saving supplies at refugee camps in more than 125 countries. Often, these camps aren’t temporary and sometimes conditions are horrendous. Often, refugees are also banned from becoming economically active. Thailand, for example, banned Burmese refugees living on the Thai-Burmese border from leaving their camps in 2014.

One of the 120.000 Burmese refugees in Thailand describes how living in such a camp, with its travel and work restrictions, while being forced to be nearly completely dependent on outside help for food, shelter, protection and other basic needs, have adverse psychological and social effects on the refugees:

“Living in the camp is similar to living in prison because I can’t go outside or make my own decision. I can commute only in the camp. The camp is surrounded by barbed wire. If we go outside of the camp, Thai police will arrest us. In the long run, it affects not only my physical but also my mental health.” (Christine, 22, refugee, who spoke with Burma Link in Mae La refugee camp in May 2014)

Lebanon’s 470,000 Palestinian refugees, of whom over 50 percent live in 12 refugee camps who’re controlled by competing Palestinian armed groups, face restrictions to practice about 30 different professions. Whatever solutions one has for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, surely condemning generations of Palestinian refugees to this fate can’t be one of them.

A preferable solution could be to create “Free havens”: a refugee zone but then one with stable rule of law, protection and opportunities for economic investment, where refugees can actually build up a life and aren’t condemned to wasting their precious time.

This has been tried, but only very occasionally, although with extraordinary success. Most prominently in the last century, it was applied in Hong Kong, effectively a refugee zone, governed by the British rule of law, welcoming millions of Chinese wanting to fled war, totalitarian rule and turmoil in mainland China. Refugee camps at best offer refugees safety, but Hong Kong offered those Chinese refugees something which even the best refugee camps can’t offer: the opportunity to develop yourself.

Refugees, broadly defined as people fleeing from both war and economy misery, aren’t asking for a lot. They want a better life. Not necessarily a whole of a lot better. Only slightly better, if nothing else is possible. Refugees don’t only want shelter. They want to be able to develop themselves. Why would they need to wait before their country returns to the better or before wealthier countries decide they’re willing to welcome them?

A tiny percentage of land in the world is urbanized, perhaps around three percent. Would it really be so impossible to identify a place where no-one lives and welcome anyone willing to go there? Would it really be impossible to identify a place where really no-one would be bothered? If a city the size of Las Vegas can be successfully developed in the middle of a desert, there shouldn’t even be any requirements in terms of average temperature or access to the sea, although a climate like California would clearly be preferred.

It’s highly likely that such a place would be part of the territory of a State. But why would this State not allow “Free havens” to be hosted? Perhaps in some remote part of it, not to bother any of its citizens with any possible burden, especially if it would be financially compensated for it, for example by charity organisations wanting to offer refugees a better perspective or by companies investing in these Free havens, which could attract a lot of skilled individuals?

Why would companies not be interested to invest in these Free havens, just as they invest in the poorest parts of the world already, which often would not offer the same standards of justice and safety that such a Free haven would offer, given that these Free havens could be administrated by officials from countries with a certain level of rule of law?

Why would such a Free haven offer standards of justice and safety that are sufficiently high to make such a project succeed, so people would actually voluntarily want to go there, and companies would actually want to invest, thereby freeing up the resources needed to compensate the host State to actually allow such a Free haven to exist on its territory?

The answer is simple: For this project to be a success, it needs to become more safe than the most unsafe place in the world and its investment climate should beat the most horrible place on earth to do business, to attract those fellow human beings who actually have to survive there at the moment. Surely that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Would it really be so hard to do better than North Korea, Syria or Congo?

This project, which could be driven by the private sector, states, supranational organisations or various actors working together, doesn’t exclude everything that’s already happening: opening borders for trade, trying to develop poor countries, attempting to pacify violent conflicts, providing emergency aid to the most needed, allow more migrants to enter wealthy countries or develop refugee camps when no other option is there. This project simply offers a solution for immigrants who are not or insufficiently helped by what is already been done: the vast majority of them. If it is so simple, why not just take action?

So what is this again?

Let’s create “Free havens”: refugee zones but then with rule of law, protection and opportunities for economic investment, where refugees can actually build up a life and aren’t condemned to wasting their precious time

Which countries would allow such zones on their territory?

That’s a challenge the EU is currently facing, at least if it continue with its idea to establish immigrant-processing centres outside the EU. These offshore centres may be based in key transit countries such as Niger, Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon. France, Germany and Malta would reportedly be keen on the idea. When seeking refuge there, asylum seekers would get the chance to indicate in which EU country they’d like to apply for asylum, and at one point there may even be a system of forced “burden sharing”, which is however unlikely, given that national politicians in the EU rightly think such sensitive policies should be decided at the national level.

To convince them, Niger, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon or maybe even Morrocco would logically need to be compensated for hosting such centres. Given the huge amount of funds available in national and European aid budgets, reaching a compromise shouldn’t be impossible.

The only element the EU Commission would need to change in its current plan, is to combine its welcoming of refugees offshore with a rule of law – mission. The EU has some experience with “rule of law”-missions. Part of its EULEX-mission in Kosovo was to administer justice in the most delicate sectors over there. It must be said that there have been major problems with the implementation, but at least Kosovo has known some kind of stability. Either way, the main difference between Free havens and the mission in Kosovo would be that anyone moving to such a Free haven would do so voluntarily.

Has something like this ever been tried?

As I made clear earlier: yes, indeed. Hong Kong effectively served as such a Free haven to Chinese refugees. It probably also served to convince mainland-China to choose the path of international trade.

Why would companies want to invest there?

Fair question. The likes of Ikea or Coca Cola would certainly need to consider this carefully, but a safe investment zone governed by officials from countries with a relatively high level of rule of law surely should be able to compete with countries where a revolution or social unrest is always only around the corner?

How much would this cost?

The Belgian police and justice system costs around 3 billion euro per year, to serve 11 million people. With 10 billion per year, which is not even 10 percent of the EU’s 130 billion euro budget, 20 million refugees could already be welcomed, as 7 billion euro would be reserved for basic infrastructure. Also co-financing from investors could be attracted. Even if only 1 million out of 50 million refugees could be welcomed at first, it would be a massive step forward.

Anyone dealing with the EU budget knows massive spending improvements could be made. More than 270 billion euros are still being sent to agricultural landowners, including the Queen of England, between 2014 and 2010. Given how the EU’s agricultural policies have been hurting developing countries for decades, it wouldn’t be such a bad target to find funds.

Is it politically feasible?

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair once proposed off-shore asylum centres, the European Commission is keen them, several member states are open to something like this. The whole idea really comes down to accepting two realities: one reality is that many people currently want to flee their country. Another reality is that a large majority of the European population, rightly or wrongly, is only willing to accept a tiny part of all the refugees in the world. So welcoming them in a safe place somewhere else is not more than obvious solution.

What if it goes wrong?

Amnesty International has criticized the European Commission’s suggestion to externalize refugee policy, warning that there may be “human rights violations” in many countries outside of the EU. Fair point, but this is being addressed when EU countries themselves would run these zones. What if EU countries would still mismanage the whole thing, and these Free havens wouldn’t be so nice at all? Even in that case, given that every refugee would obviously only go there voluntarily, people would only come if the welcoming zone would be nicer than refugee camps or the places from which they are fleeing. Surely, it can’t be hard to beat these standards?

Won’t it lead to a brain drain?

In the event that these Free havens turn out to be a massive success and start attracting not only desperate refugees but also people that are already relatively well off, we would indeed face this discussion. I won’t go into detail here, but there are also upsides to intelligent people moving to work in wealthier countries, given the fact that they can send more money back home to help their families than if they had stayed.

Isn’t this “apartheid”?

When you accept that migration should be limited, you accept a certain form of “apartheid” already. To support unlimited migration is a fair position to hold, but has very little support. Why then not try to improve the fate of those who’re not welcome in wealthier countries?

Pieter Cleppe

There’s no explicit open borders advocacy here. (Open borders is a “fair position to hold, but has very little support.”) But if a global archipelago of passport-free charter cities were established, the right to emigrate would be effectively realized, even if the more general right to migrate were not. I’m all for it. And this is a good example of how human rights can be the thin end of the wedge for open borders, as religious freedom was once the thin end of the wedge, first for freedom of speech, expression, and conscience, then for democracy. If we take seriously the responsibility of the international community not to drown desperate people or trap them in places where their lives are in danger, we will be on a path that, if followed devoutly enough, leads quite far in the direction of open borders. It would be, among other things a fitting Western repentance for the blood of the Jews of the MS St. Louis.

Related reading

In addition to the links included by Smith in the leading para, the following might be of interest to readers:

Open Borders and the Hive Mind Hypothesis

I recently finished a (fairly advanced) draft of “The Global Economic Impact of Open Borders,” posted to SSRN here. Here’s the abstract:

Open borders, in the sense of the abolition of policies restricting migration, would cause billions of people to migrate, and result in almost a doubling of world GDP. Based on a model that stresses human capital as a determinant of the wealth and poverty of nations, but which also has a spatial element and allows total factor productivity to differ across cities, two openborders scenarios are constructed. In the first, “pure market clearing” scenario, world GDP rises 91% as 82% of the world’s population migrates, mostly to the West, and the living standards of unskilled workers worldwide rise to 26% of the US level. In the second scenario, with several adjustments made to favor greater realism at the expense of some arbitrariness, world GDP rises 85% as 58% of the world’s population migrates, and the living standards of unskilled workers worldwide rise to 31% of the US level.

For more on this paper, see my guest post at Market Monetarist last fall; and my three-part series on “Open borders and the economic frontier” (part 1, part 2, and part 3).

While I plan to do another round of revisions (a sorely needed Acknowledgments section is high on the priority list), I want to bring out some of the main themes of the paper, through blog posts at Open Borders: The Case. One of these is that while the claim that open borders would dramatically raise world GDP (“double world GDP” is the usual, sometimes criticized as over-optimistic but in my view apt, slogan) is robust to many changes in assumptions, it cannot withstand the “hive mind” hypothesis about the determination of GDP.

In technical jargon, the “hive mind” hypothesis is that TFP (total factory productivity) depends on human capital externalities. In non-technical language, the hive mind hypothesis is that people’s productivity and earnings depend, not so much on their own intelligence or skill, as on that of people around them.

(In the academic literature, Jones (2011), “The Hive Mind Across Asia,” seems to be the most prominent paper using the phrase “hive mind” in this sense, but Lucas (1988) is a seminal paper for the idea that human capital externalities are an important determinant of TFP, on which a large literature builds. John Lee comments here on how Docquier, Machado, and Sekkat (2014), the chief outlier among papers estimating the global economic impact of open borders, uses a form of the hive mind hypothesis to arrive at its conclusion that open borders would only raise world GDP by 4%.)

The principal motivation for the hive mind hypothesis is to explain the fact that highly skilled workers do not tend to earn more where skills are scarce. If anything, they earn more where they are abundant. A well-designed study by Michael Clemens uses the randomness of US visa allocations to show clearly that Indian software programmers earn far more in the US than in India, for reasons that seem to indicate higher productivity, since they’re working for the same companies, and the companies would have no reason to sponsor their visas if they didn’t anticipate a productivity increase sufficient to justify the higher salary. Against this, my own experience in Malawi taught me that what Amy Chua (2004) calls “market-dominant minorities” can achieve, in the poorest countries on earth, living standards much superior to those of middle-class Westerners in some respects (land, servants, to some extent leisure) while inferior in others (access to shopping, internet) in such a way that, overall, they might be rated as similar; and Chua (2004) gives very extensive evidence that this is true not just in Malawi but all over the world. My rough assessment is that while Indian software programmers might be far more productive in the US, the living standard earned by human capital is similar all over the world. (More precisely, the additional living standard that a worker with human capital equivalent to that of an average American will enjoy, over and above whatever a local unskilled worker would earn varies by less than an order of magnitude across countries.) Still, even if skills don’t earn less where they are scarce, they ought in theory to earn more, and that they don’t is a mystery demanding explanation.

Normally, a factor of production is most valuable where it is scarcest. Thus, water is intensely valued in California but less so on the rainy East Coast. Land is very expensive in Manhattan, where it is scarce (relative to population), but much less so in Montana, where there’s plenty of it. We should ordinarily expect the same thing with respect to brains, skills, human capital. They should be expensive where they are scarce, cheap where they are abundant. In fact, human capital seems to earn as much or more where it is abundant. To resort to technical language again (sometimes it clarifies) there is a correlation between average human capital and total factor productivity (TFP); and the hive mind hypothesis is essentially that this is causal, with the direction of causation running from average human capital to TFP. There may be a variety of reasons, e.g., smart people vote more like economists (so that democracy => good policy works only as well as the voters are smart), or smart people are better at cooperating, or maybe smart people need stimulation from other smart people to exercise and improve their intelligence. That’s the hive mind hypothesis in a nutshell. If you want more, ParaPundit’s post “Benthamite Libertarian Collectivists Wrong on Open Borders” has a good explanation (though without the term “hive mind”) with further links. Even better are the extensive contributions by anonymous commenter BK at the “Open borders and the economic frontier” posts linked above, and also here and here. Chaper 2 of Collier’s Exodus, which I review here, has what might be called an institutional spin on the hive mind hypothesis.

If the hive hypothesis is true (if average human capital is causally linked to TFP), what does it imply for open borders?

First, if the hive mind hypothesis is true, the impact of open borders on world GDP would probably be far less favorable than most of the existing estimates suggest. In one of the two model extensions that make TFP a function of human capital externalities, I find that world GDP falls by nearly one-quarter under open borders. One critique of open borders is that it would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The hive mind hypothesis is probably the form of “killing the goose” argument that has the best support in the literature at the moment.

Second, even in my most pessimistic hive mind scenario, unskilled workers worldwide end up with living standards 15% of the current US level, an order of magnitude above current levels. This is a counter-intuitive result, because in essence, what it shows is that the seemingly most pessimistic open borders scenario, killing the goose, and the seemingly most optimistic open borders scenario, the end of poverty, are actually not inconsistent! Even if the institutional harms/negative externalities/various downsides of open borders were severe enough that world GDP, far from doubling, actually fell substantially, yet billions of the world’s most destitute people would still see their incomes multiplied five-fold, ten-fold, or more, because they could live under institutions that, while much degraded relative to the pre-open borders rich world, were still a good deal better than those they suffer under today; and also because they would benefit from greatly increased opportunities for productive complementarity with skilled workers, which the status quo precludes. Is it worth reducing world GDP by one-quarter to raise the wages of the bottom billion ten-fold? Probably so, if it came to that.

Third– and this is why ParaPundit misses the mark– whatever the normative implications of the hive mind hypothesis may be with respect to immigration, they certainly do not suggest that the status quo is anything like optimal. If one’s goal is to maximize world GDP, the only advantage of the status quo, relative to open borders, is that it involves some human capital stratification, allowing today’s rich countries to be productive “hive minds” of high human capital people. But the migration status quo is a very suboptimal human capital stratification system. First, there should be open borders for smart people– no reason to shut them out– and the admission of people with high IQs and advanced degrees to rich countries could be far more automatic and transparent. We could create schemes to bribe low-IQ, less-educated citizens of rich countries to emigrate and surrender their citizenship, since such emigration should raise average human capital, and TFP, in the source country. We could establish charter cities for low-IQ people to emigrate to, and a bit of ongoing foreign aid might be a fiscal price well worth paying to have them out of the way. Meanwhile, we could establish gated communities for smart people, graduating them into increasing levels of self-government, until eventually they attain full independence as (not philosopher-kings but) philosopher-republics.

Critics of open borders from a hive mind angle, like ParaPundit, can be called on to explain why they don’t advocate a global program of maximal human capital stratification, since that’s what their arguments would really point to.

I’m skeptical of the hive mind hypothesis, and I don’t think open borders would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; I think it would double world GDP. But I don’t rule the hive mind hypothesis out either, and it’s one of the most respectable reasons to dissent from claims that open borders would raise world GDP dramatically.

More related reading

  • Grappling with the Goose by Paul Crider, Open Borders: The Case, February 17, 2014.
  • How migration liberalization might eliminate most absolute poverty by Carl Shulman, May 27, 2014, making a very similar point. Here is the summary:

    While some estimates that open borders would double gross world product implicitly project the migration of most of the developed country labor force, a much smaller quantity of migration might cut global poverty rates by half or better. The additional income to the poorest required to bring them above extreme poverty lines is in the hundreds of billions of dollars per annum, while doubling world product would approach a hundred trillion dollars of additional annual output. Legal barriers to migration, and blocked desire to migrate, are most extreme for the poorest countries, suggesting extra migrants from those sources. While migrants may receive more income gains than are needed to escape absolute poverty remittances to family, trade, and investment may help to distribute the gains more widely. Overall, the case that migration liberalization for less skilled workers could eliminate most absolute poverty is significantly more robust than the most extreme estimates of global output gains.

  • Intelligence, international development, and immigration by Vipul Naik, Open Borders: The Case, August 19, 2012. See also the follow-up Garett Jones responds to my intelligence post.

The Time I Almost Went to Jail Over Immigration Bureaucracy

This is the third in a series of posts by Justin Merrill describing his experiences with immigration law and immigrants. In the first post of the series, Merrill described how, after a summer working in an orchard in the US alongside immigrants from Mexico, Merrill’s own views shifted in the direction of open borders. In the second post, Merrill described how his Japanese wife was denied entry to the United States when she tried entering on a tourist visa, and he therefore ended up moving to Japan to start married life with her. This post decribes his encounters with the Japanese immigration bureaucracy. You can read more posts in our personal anecdote series here.

After Eri was denied entry into the US, we had to decide where we could do to live together. We devised a plan to stay with our friends Phil and Yukako in Iwakuni, Japan while I looked for a job on the Marine Corps Air Station and we looked for our own housing. I arrived on a tourist visa and I needed to get a job before it expired. Even when I was in the Marine Corps, I had never been to this base and this part of Japan was new to me, so I didn’t have any connections. The prospects were slim because the best jobs were only open to people who already had SOFA status (Status of Forces Agreement). SOFA status is a special visa status for US military members and civilians working on the base and their families. Only the most desperate job vacancies would open up to people from off base who didn’t have SOFA status. This is because it costs thousands of dollars to run background checks and apply for SOFA status, so it is cheaper to hire from the existing pool. It was frustrating that there were jobs in finance and supply administration that I was qualified for but couldn’t apply to without SOFA status.

With my visa expiring soon, I applied to the on base day care. It was one of the most difficult jobs on base but our friend Yukako worked there. Since it was the least desired position it had perpetual vacancies open to anyone who could pass the background check. Well, that’s not even true. They hired a Japanese man who spent four years in America “going to college”, but they found out after employing him for at least a year that he had instead served a four year sentence for raping a ten year old girl in the US. They didn’t do a background check on his time in the US until after I complained about his suspicious behavior, but I digress.

With just a couple weeks left on my passport I interviewed for the position as a last resort. A week later on a Friday I was called by human resources and told that I was hired and that my first day was next Tuesday. She explained to me that all new hires start on Tuesdays because they have to attend an all-day orientation class that is offered weekly. I gladly accepted the position and told her that my visa expires Sunday. She said that it wouldn’t be a problem because I was officially hired and I would be considered sponsored. She told me that on Monday I needed to come by the HR office and pick up my new ID and some paperwork that I’d need to take to the Japanese government office in Hiroshima to process my SOFA status.

On Monday, after I stopped by the base, Eri and I took the train to Hiroshima. We knew we arrived at the government offices because there was a long line of thirty or so Filipino bar girls lined up against the wall getting processed for deportation. When it was my turn I went to the window. The attendant told me to wait a moment while she spoke with her supervisor. She returned with her supervisor and two police officers. They told me to follow them into an interrogation room and told Eri to wait outside. They said that I had over-stayed my visa and that I was facing up to six months in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and being barred from reentry. I explained that this was all a misunderstanding that would be cleared up if they just spoke with human resources on the base. They kept pressuring me, trying to make me feel guilty for something that I had no remorse for. I wasn’t too scared because I had faith that it would get cleared up, but this guy clearly wanted to make an example out of me. If he had gotten his way, it would have been devastating. Eri can’t live in the US and I couldn’t live in Japan. Plus, if I had a criminal record from violating immigration laws I might have a hard time getting residency in a third country.

After almost three hours of interrogation and mostly making me sitting alone, not even allowing me to talk to my wife, they finally let me go without an apology. They said they had cleared things up with my command. I gladly left with my opinion of immigration enforcers at a new low. The Status of Forces Agreement details how US citizens will be treated if there is a violation of the local laws. Because I didn’t officially have SOFA status yet since I was in limbo, maybe I wouldn’t have been protected if Japan wanted to play hard ball?

I was able to stay in Japan and work on base as planned. It only took three months for an ideal job to open up and I got it. Eri and I got our own place off base and started our new lives together. Soon after we moved to Japan, Eri got pregnant and we started her immigration paperwork. We were happy despite the fact that I just got out of the Marine Corps and was hoping to never look back, but now was working as a civilian.

I did a little research for this post and it looks like around the time I almost went to jail in 2006 they were changing the immigration laws in Japan. Visa overstays in Japan are now only punished with deportation and banned for 1-5 years, instead of being jailed and fined, if they turn themselves in. This change in the enforcement has halved the number of illegal immigrants living in Japan since 2006.

To be continued …

Related reading

This section includes links provided by the author but with some editorial expansion.

Japanese immigration enforcement has a history of corruption. See for instance:

  • Japan’s immigration control: Gulag for gaijin, The Economist, January 18, 2012, quotes from Bryan Johnson’s lengthy account of his experience being denied entry into Japan and forced to depart at gunpoint. The original account is here. The beginning of the account is quoted below:

    On my way home to Tokyo after a three-day trip to Seoul, I was planning to spend Christmas with my partner, our two dogs, and her Japanese family. I had flight and hotel reservations for ski trips to Hokkaido and Tohoku, and I was planning—with the help of regional government tourism agencies—to do feature stories to promote foreign tourism to Japan.

    While taking my fingerprints, an immigration officer saw my name on a computer watch list. Without even looking through my passport, where he might find proper stamps for my travels, he marked a paper and gave it to another immigration officer. ”Come with me,” he said, and I did.

    He led me to an open room. Tired after three hours’ sleep overnight in Seoul, I nodded off. Officers woke me up and insisted we do an “interview” in a private room, “for your privacy.” Sensing something amiss, I asked for a witness and a translator, to make sure they couldn’t confuse me with legal jargon in Japanese. An employee of Asiana Airlines came to witness the “interview.”

    The immigration officers provided a translator—hired by immigration. She turned out to be the interpreter from hell. ”Hi, what’s your name?” I asked, introducing myself to her. “I don’t have to tell you anything,” she snapped at me. She was backed up by four uniformed immigration officials.

    Q: “What are the names of the hotels where you stayed in April in the disaster zone? What are the names of people you met in Fukushima?”

    A: “Well, I stayed at many places, I met hundreds of people.”

    Q: “What are their names?”

    A: “Well, there are so many.”

    Q: “You are refusing to answer the question! You must say exactly, in detail.”

    (Before I could answer, next question.)

    Q: “What were you doing in May 2010? Who did you meet then?”

    A: “That was a long time ago. Let me think for a moment.”

    The interpreter butted in: “See, you are refusing to answer. You are lying.”

    The “interpreter”, biased toward her colleagues in the immigration department, intentionally mistranslated my answers, and repeatedly accused me of making unclear statements. I understood enough of their conversation in Japanese to realise she totally got my story wrong.

    Without hesitation, he wrote on a document: “No proof. Entry denied.”

    “But I do have proof,” I said.

    But he refused to acknowledge it. “You must sign here. You cannot refuse.”

  • Japan: Welcome to Japan? by Amnesty International, May 16, 2002, documents Japan’s treatment of those seeking entry, including those with bona fide asylum applications.
  • People seeking to migrate to the US are expected to meet higher bars for “morality” than just avoiding crime. See for instance the concepts of moral turpitude and good moral character. Similar ideas may apply de facto to immigration to other countries. See also the blog post Exposing the fundamentally immoral bedrock of most immigration laws by John Lee, Open Borders: The Case, March 20, 2013.
  • English-language version of the Japanese government’s official description of its immigration laws: here and here.

The photograph of San Quentin prison in California featured at the top of this post was taken by Waldemar Zboralski, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.

The Life of First-Generation Immigrants in Canada

As part of our efforts to better understand global migration, we accept submissions from people or groups who have experience or direct involvement with immigration. This post, submitted by My Visa Source, a Canadian immigration firm, examines the experience of first-generation immigrants to Canada.

Leaving your familiar homeland to live out your life in a new and radically different environment is an experience both difficult and rewarding. Despite the demands of learning a new language and cultural framework and the many risks inherent in the transition to a new country, millions choose to take up this challenge every single year.

Why Do People Choose the Life of a First-Generation Immigrant?

Few opt for the life of an immigrant out of a mere sense of adventure and curiosity. In most cases, one or more of the following factors will be involved in the decision:

  • The prospect of a better economic situation
  • The opportunity for the immigrant or his/her children to achieve important educational goals
  • The desire to be with relatives or friends who have already immigrated
  • Conditions of poverty, persecution, or discrimination in their native land

In sum, we could say that most immigrants are looking for a chance to live a better life. They often have not only their own futures in view, but also the future betterment of their children and grandchildren.

How Is a First-Generation Immigrant Defined?

“First-generation immigrant,” as used here and in most other contexts, refers to a foreign-born individual who becomes a citizen or permanent resident of another nation. Some have used the term to refer to the first generation born in the new land, but we shall refer to that as “second generation” immigrant. In Canada, 55% of second generation immigrants had two foreign-born parents, with the remaining 45% having only one.

The National Household Survey of 2011 broke down the Canadian population as follows:

  1. 22% were first-generation immigrants
  2. 17% were second-generation
  3. 61% were third-generation or more

Where Do Most First-Generation Immigrants Live?

Over 80% of Canadian immigrant families live in major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. They are fairly evenly spread across the country, but British Columbia and Ontario are the only two provinces where first and second generation immigrants total over 50% of the population. Quebec and Newfoundland have significantly low numbers of immigrants.

How Long Does Assimilation Take?

Most second generation immigrants in Canada are fully assimilated, but those born abroad may take a life time to adjust to the culture. In the process, they will also contribute to the culture, enriching it and expanding it. Canadian immigrants come from over 200 nations of the world, so it is not surprising if many immigrants experience intense “culture shock” upon first arrival. Nonetheless, with a willingness to be flexible and learn new things, a greater “blending in” will inevitably occur with the passing of time.

One of the main challenges to Canadian first-generation immigrants is simply finding adequate employment. Studies of Canadian immigrants over the last 25 years have shown that linguistic, cultural, and informational barriers tend to make their employment opportunities fewer and lower-paying initially. In the long-term, however, immigrants actually out-perform their Canadian-born counterparts. Blending into the workforce, or “economic assimilation,” is one important aspect of immigrant assimilation.

While immigrants to Canada were mostly from Europe, today most come from Asia. This has increased the linguistic and cultural “distance” at which immigrants begin assimilation, but this has not changed the fact that those born in Canada grow up well integrated into the new language and cultural systems. Even ethnic “visibility” decreases over time: 60% of first-generation immigrants to Canada are considered “visible immigrants,” 30% of second-generation, and only 1% of third-generation. Finally, there is some debate as to whether Canada will be a “melting pot” or a “cultural mosaic” in years ahead. If the latter, the degree of assimilation required will be lessened.

How Strong are First-Generation Immigrant Families?

Most Canadian immigrants tend to have very strong familial bonds. Partly, this stems from the cultural milieu of their country of origin, but it also is tied in with the immigrant situation. A strong sense of family obligation often leads children of first-generation immigrants to high academic achievement as well as long-term residence with/near their parents. While the stresses and strains of the immigration undertaking can be great, the overall effect on immigrant families is generally beneficial in every realm: academic, economic, and social.

The Prospects for Assimilation for First-Generation Immigrants

While immigrant communities often tend to initially form small enclaves in major cities, it only takes one generation for assimilation to occur. First-generation immigrants may never fully forget the ways of “the old country,” but they can gradually acquire a second culture in “the new country.” Total immersion will, over time, wear away the effects of culture shock. New friends and acquaintances, local family ties, and participation in social events will help them to “feel at home” and gain a sense of belonging. Like transplanted trees, first-generation immigrants’ lives will thrive as they put down deep roots in new soil.

Related reading

This section has been added by Open Borders: The Case editorial staff. The author of the original piece is not responsible for it.

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Our Wedding and Immigration Disaster

This post is part of a series by Justin Merrill describing his personal experience with immigration and his embrace of open borders. It is part of our ongoing series of posts that are based on personal anecdotes. The first post in the series is here.

I was a senior in high school when terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. I was at a critical point in deciding what to do after graduation and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. I went to boot camp one year after 9/11. After I finished my combat and job training, I was sent to my first duty station in Okinawa, Japan. My time in Okinawa was bittersweet because our command was really strict and paternalistic and my office made me work incredibly long hours. But unlike many of my peers, I made an effort to soak up the culture and experience more of the off-base life than just bars. As mentioned in my previous post, I was raised around Japanese exchange students and I also did karate as a kid, so my starting level of Japanese was basic, but higher than most (counting and common phrases).

Eri, my future wife, and I met and started chatting through Yahoo Messenger in 2003. She is from Toyota, Japan (yes, where they make the cars), which is on mainland Japan. Okinawa is a tropical island far to the south, sometimes called the “Hawaii of Japan”. Our relationship was more of a friendly pen pal nature, mostly because there wasn’t any expectation of meeting in the future. I also was opposed to having a serious relationship while in the Marine Corps because I saw how high the strain of military life is on relationships. My tour in Okinawa was only one year and a vacation to visit her wasn’t practical. Eri spoke English well because she was an exchange student in North Carolina for two years and studied English in Australia after graduating from high school. We kept in touch over the years and got to know each other pretty well. After my year in Okinawa, my final duty station was in the Washington, DC area for the remainder of my term. Even though I was raised on the west coast, I liked the DC area so much that I decided to stay there after I got out. I shared an apartment with my newlywed friends and was putting down roots on my terminal leave when Eri told me that she would be visiting her host family that she lived with while in North Carolina. I pointed out that the timing was perfect and that we should meet up. We agreed to spend three weeks together and instantly hit it off. A week after we met we decided to get married. We spent a week in NYC, a first for both of us, during Christmas and New Year’s and bought our wedding rings in the Diamond District. Our families were both very happy for us, but I didn’t want to do a shotgun wedding. I wanted to meet her family first and have the ceremony in Japan, especially since we are both Buddhist and Eri’s mom’s temple offered to perform the ceremony. So we arranged to have receptions in Toyota and Utah for both our families. The wedding was scheduled for February. Eri’s tourist visa would expire soon so she returned to Japan to start planning the wedding and I began looking for a new apartment in DC for us to move in to after the receptions.

Before our wedding, in order for our marriage to be recognized in the States, we had to get a marriage certificate from the US embassy consulate in Osaka, which is pretty far from Toyota. The only day that happened to fit in our busy schedule was Valentine’s Day. We chose against having the wedding on Valentine’s Day because it seemed too cheesy, but our marriage certificate states we were legally wedded on that day. Now we celebrate our anniversary on Feb. 14th and tell people we were “accidentally” married on that day. Only my mom could attend on my side of the family, but our wedding and reception in Japan were great. Her family helped pay for an extravagant celebration and all her friends and family came and supported us. It’s not common to marry a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan. After the wedding we had a honeymoon of sorts and stayed with Eri’s friends, Phil and Yukako, who attended our wedding and who were a couple like us (former Marine husband and Japanese wife). Eri was an exchange student in North Carolina with Yukako and they became best friends; it’s funny they would both marry Marines. Phil was working as a civilian on the Marine Corps Air Base in Iwakuni, which is far to the south. After spending time with them, Eri and I were to fly to Utah to prepare for our reception for my family.

For some reason, I think because I was using a Delta buddy pass, we had to fly on different flights and I arrived a couple days before her. Fortunately I bought ourselves new cell phones and added her to my plan before I left, since we were planning on living in the States. As I was on my way to pick her up in Salt Lake City she texted me that she wouldn’t be arriving and was being taken into custody. She had a layover and her port of entry was Minneapolis, MN. When she went through customs they were suspicious because she had recently visited the States. They searched her luggage and found wedding photos and deduced that she was trying to live in the US. They took her into custody and interrogated her for hours, even playing a good cop/bad cop routine, while I was standing at her terminal, horrified by the nightmare that was beginning. They denied her entry and put a flag on her passport so that she could not reenter the States until we went through the process and got her green card. We later discovered that this was incorrect; she would not be able to enter the country under any condition, something that would have been nice to know before we went through the entire process. Luckily we found a loop hole.

Eri was flown back to Japan through Holland. She spent over three days straight on an airplane without a chance to even shower. With only days until our reception, we were trying frantically on both ends to find a way to get her into the country. She went back to the embassy consulate in Osaka and I was contacting my representative and USCIS. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do. They said there was no discretion on this matter and no way to even allow her to temporarily visit for our reception. This close to the reception it was impossible to cancel. Her parents could attend and it was nice that our families could meet, but it was sad that it was under these circumstances. My mother-in-law served as a substitute bride and cut the cake with me. We made the best of the situation.

The stressful part would be to decide what to do next. Fortunately I wasn’t so rooted that I was able to sell off my belongings, cancel and get a refund on my deposit for our new apartment, and cancel our phone plan. I had to sell my recording studio (I started a record label) and back out of a real estate foreclosure deal that would have earned me $200k, but I couldn’t find a lawyer to be my agent while I was out of the country. I mailed the rest of my belongings to our friends, Phil and Yukako. We devised a plan where I could get a job on base before my tourist visa expires and the base would sponsor my visa and let me stay in Japan. I had to take the first job I could get and move up from there, but it was worth it. Eri and I got our own little house and started our new lives together in Iwakuni, Japan.

We both sacrificed a lot, but we just wanted to be together. We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me. The immigration policy ended up costing us a lot of money, hardship, and productivity and career opportunities over the years, and I must say it felt unnecessary.

Here’s the next post in the series.

Some related background and links (added by our editorial team)

A United States visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. All it does is allow the holder to travel to the United States and present himself or herself at a port of entry. The officer at the port of entry has discretionary authority to deny admission if the officer suspects immigrant intent or other violations of the terms of the visa.

Nationals of about 50 countries (including Japan, where Eri was from) are eligible to enter the United States for short term business and pleasure trips through the Visa Waiver Program. VWP entries are treated similarly to entries made while on a B1/B2 visa. A person can be denied entry based on the VWP or B1/B2 visa if it transpires that the person intends to transition to a long-term non-immigrant or immigrant status. It is also not generally permissible for somebody in the US on VWP or B1/B2 travel to transition while within the United States to a long-term non-immigrant status (such as F student status or H-1B status) or immigrant status (that Eri would have been eligible for as the wife of a US citizen).

Some related reading on denial at a port of entry:

  • Friend, relative, etc. denied entry to the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), United States Department of Homeland Security.
  • At the U.S. Border or Airport: What to Expect When Entering. Entering the U.S. may not be easy, even with a valid visa in hand. (
  • A Tale of “Voluntary Departure” from the Comments by Bryan Caplan, EconLog, August 22, 2011, quoting Tim Worstall:

    Having been caught up in the US system once “voluntary departure” is anything but.

    On entering the country on a 10 year, multi-entry, business visa (I owned a small business in the US at the time) immigration officials decided that I should not be allowed to enter.

    I was not allowed legal representation of any kind. I was interviewed and then the notes of the interview were written up afterwards (ie, what the officer remembered he and I had said, not what was actually said).

    I refused to sign such misleading notes. I was told that if I did not I would be deported, my passport declared invalid for travel to the US for the rest of my life.

    So of course I signed and then made my “voluntary departure” which included being held in a cell until the time of my flight, being threatened with being handcuffed while going to the flight and the return of my passport only upon arrival in London.

    My 10 year multi entry visa had of course been cancelled. My attempts to get matters sorted out, so that I could visit my business, were rather hampered by the way that the interview notes which I had signed under duress were taken to be the only valid evidence by the INS (as was) that should be discussed when deciding upon visa status.

    I lost the business and haven’t bothered returning to the country in the more than decade since.

    There is no law, evidence, representation nor even accurate recording of proceedings in such “voluntary departures”. It is entirely at the whim of the agents at the border post. I was actually told by one agent “I’m gonna screw you over”.

    Something of a difference from what’s scrawled over that statue in New York really. And I’m most certainly not the only business person this sort of thing has happened to.

Some other general reading:

UPDATE: Victoria Ferauge, who has previously written a guest post for the site, wrote a post on her personal blog titled A US Immigration Tale commenting on the story:

In the last paragraph of his post I can hear his bitterness at how his wife was treated.

We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me.

And as I read this I was amazed at how things had changed in just a few short years. Pre-911 my French husband got his Green Card in Seattle. He had landed in the US on one kind of visa and it was just a matter of going down to immigration and filling out the paperwork to get residency status based on his marriage to me, l’américaine. Very simple. No one at immigration so much as blinked twice when we explained what we wanted. The final interview lasted less than 10 minutes. That’s all it took for the very pleasant official to decide that my husband merited a Green Card.

We were just as naive as Merrill and his wife. We took for granted that because we were married, we could choose which country we wanted to live in. And our assumptions proved true at that time.

In this story we can see how a vigorous and punctilious application of immigration law can hurt not only the immigrant but the native citizen as well. Please note that the US not only lost an immigrant, but they forced one of their own into emigrating. Merrill and his wife didn’t get to choose where they wanted to live – they were forced in the direction of the country that would take both of them.

Interestingly enough, that turned out to be Japan – a country that many Americans consider to be unfriendly to immigrants.

Oh, the irony…

UPDATE 2: The post was picked up by MetaFilter and got 34 comments there. Read the MetaFilter thread: my mother-in-law served as a substitute bride.

The photograph featured at the top of this post is of Mario Chavez embracing his wife Lizeth through the US-Mexico border fence at Playas de Tijuana. The original photograph is copyright David Maung, and was published by Human Rights Watch; a higher-resolution version is available at their website.

Just a reminder: here’s the next post in the series.