When it became clear that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States of America, quite a few Americans felt an urge to leave the country. The website of the Canadian immigration agency crashed. And one thing many perhaps realized for the first time in their lives: Borders are closed. It is not so easy to escape if it were necessary. Welcome to the real world!
Personally, I find the reaction understandable, but overblown. Yes, Donald Trump will be a horrible president, and he will make life hard for many people. That’s really sad, and words cannot convey how sad it is. But those will be illegal immigrants or travellers and potential immigrants from Muslim countries. He will be very careful not to go against most Americans because he wants to be re-elected in 2020 (start to get used to that thought). Comparing him to Hitler was hyperbole during the election campaign. Be very glad that it is not true.
In my view, a Trump presidency opens up a golden opportunity to draw a lot of good people to other countries. Or for economists: Lots of human capital trying to move elsewhere. If other countries were smart, they would grab this opportunity with both hands, and open their borders for Americans. As a German, I think Germany should do it ASAP. If the European Union is worth anything, it should do it on a European scale. I would not expect many immigrants, but I love the principle also in this case.
Now, there could be problems with American immigrants. They might come for the welfare, they might not be compatible with the culture here and not understand our sense of humor, they might work too hard and hate six weeks of vacation, they might be „böse people“ (= “bad hombres”) who commit crimes (the homicide rate in the US is more than five or even ten (!) times the homicide rate in Germany), and a few of you are even terrorists (Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, I am looking at you). That’s why I would want to make a proposal which may look a little complicated, but which I think can handle all this.
Actually, Germany should not only open borders for Americans immediately, but also for anyone from another developed country. Let’s say Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and so forth. I would also propose a gradual implementation of open borders with all countries along these lines, which might take some time because there are so many people who are probably interested. And, of course, I would also recommend that other countries follow suit. But Germany could do it unilaterally, no need to wait until the whole world agrees on this.
Here is my proposal. It consists of five steps:
Permanent Tourist Visa
No American has to come illegally to Germany, and that’s why I’d be little lenient with those who do it anyway. It’s because I would think they might be a selection of people who have a reason to keep their stay secretive.
The reason why it should make no sense to come illegally is that any American can apply for a Permanent Tourist Visa that as a rule is granted. This would include a background check to exclude very specific people (e.g. whether your first name is Donald and you have a weird hairdo). You might also have to pay a small fee and supply a deposit in an escrow account that would be sufficient to support you for some time and to send you back to the US if that’s necessary.
If you have a Permanent Tourist Visa you can enter Germany at any time, travel around, and, of course, also leave. Unlike for a normal tourist visa, you can also rent accomodation. However, you are not allowed to work. Maybe we could make an exception if you are working extraterritorially (e.g. you do programming for an American company over the internet), but in that case, you would have to pay taxes in Germany.
As a Permanent Tourist you can stay as long as you want. You might have to renew your visa perhaps once a year and pay a fee, though. You will have to fend for yourself or find someone who supports you. You have no access to the German welfare state, except in urgent cases, and then you would have to pay out of your deposit first. If you run out of money and need support, Germany will not let you starve to death, but will send you back to the US and refer you to the American welfare state which is actually not that different from the German welfare state.
If you commit a crime, Germany will also send you back and bar you from the country for a time that corresponds to your expected penalty (let’s say five times average sentence for the crime). We will also guarantee that we will never extradite anyone for political crimes, if you have to expect cruel or unusual punishment (Germany does not have the death penalty) or due process in the US is in doubt: full right to asylum in an old sense. Also in a modern sense: We will not send you back if there is a civil war in the US or people like you have to fear for their life and liberty.
Never. Never ever.
You might want to work in Germany. Most people don’t have the money to retire early, most people do not have someone who pays for them forever. In that case you can apply for a Guestworker Visa. Since you can easily obtain a Permanent Tourist Visa you can come to Germany, find accomodation and a job. But you can also do that from home.
If you have a job offer and have passed a background check (e.g. whether your middle name begins with a J and you don’t want to show your tax returns), as a rule you get a Guestworker Visa which allows you to work in Germany for three years. Of course, you have to pay taxes like everyone else. You might also have to pay a moderate fee and supply a deposit like for the Permanent Tourist Visa.
Here is the deal: You can work, but you don’t have access to the German welfare state, except in urgent cases. Just like with the Permanent Tourist Visa, you will be sent back if you cannot make it in Germany: run out of money, need assistance and don’t have someone who supports you.
You might also have to pay part of your salary into the escrow account. You will be refunded, once you return to the US. And since this is like a German government bond, you will also be paid interest on it (just kidding: yields for German government bonds have been negative lately). This serves as an incentive that you indeed return if you have to.
If you commit a crime, you have to go back to the US and are barred from Germany for some time (see above). If there is no problem with you for three years, you can get another Guestworker Visa, or you can switch back to Permanent Tourist at anytime. In other words: you can stay as long as you want.
Preliminary Permanent Residency
After some time, you might find that it is quite nice here, and living in Germany is on a par with living in the US (although one American cosmopolitan instantly went into „USA! USA! USA!“ when I told him that). Maybe Progressives and Liberals will be disappointed with the German welfare state if they experience it firsthand. But then also Libertarians and Conservatives are in for a surprise: We don’t have a gulag either. I am not kidding you: this is not socialism, you can do a lot of business here.
Now, if you find being a guestworker forever too unstable, if you resent always only paying to the German welfare state and never receiving anything in return, and if you uphold „no taxation without representation,“ Permanent Residency is the way to go. It works in two steps. The first one is Preliminary Permanent Residency. It is what it is called: you don’t have a time limit anymore (the rule), but there are some caveats (the exceptions).
You can apply after a Guestworker Visa and at least three years without any problems, and maybe another background check (e.g. you did not lie about your German ancestry and said you were of Scottish descent, but we know that your grandfather changed his name from “Drumpf” to “Trump”). You might also have to reach a minimum in taxes and contributions you have paid over time: your balance. But it is like with a fire or life insurance: you first pay premiums without coverage in the event, but then you receive coverage after some time.
You now successively obtain access to the welfare state which is not a blank check, but only kicks in for special cases. As a Preliminary Permanent Resident, at first you receive what a Guestworker does: nothing. However, that increases over time depending on your balance (what you paid in via taxes and contributions minus what you have received).
If you draw your balance down, you go backwards, and you might even return to the level of a Guestworker until you have built it up again. In lockstep with your balance you get more and more access to the welfare state like to an insurance. When you have reached a certain level you have full access. If you cannot make it in Germany even with that, we will still send you back. But that now becomes more and more of an exception.
The principle also applies to when you commit a crime. It depends on how far you have progressed. In the beginning, it is just like for a Guestworker, and you are out. But in the end, you are treated like any domestic criminal and there is no deportation anymore. There is maybe also a clause that you will be thrown out for extremely horrible crimes, let’s say, terrorism.
Your deposit is slowly paid out to you from the escrow account (plus interest) as you progress.
Irrevocable Permanent Residency
After you have achieved a target for your balance, and have been a Preliminary Permanent Resident for at least three years, you automatically become an Irrevocable Permanent Resident. That means you have full access to the welfare state and under no circumstances can you be deported.
Actually, you are on the same footing as a German citizen. According to the German Basic Law, i.e. the constitution, a German citizen will not be extradited to any country outside the EU (it used to be for all countries).
I already appealed to „no taxation without representation“ and I meant it. Permanent Residents do not have the vote. They might still have problems with getting visas for third countries (German citizenship is the best in this regard: the most countries you can travel to without a visa).
After a few years of being an Irrevocable Permanent Resident, and maybe another target for your balance, you obtain the right to apply for German citizenship. There might be some conditions (e.g. something like a citizenship test) and some well-defined exceptions, but as a rule you cannot be denied German citizenship.
Now, Americans, and fellow German citizens in spe, what do you think? I am talking about open borders for Americans with some minor hassles, and a way out of the country if it got really bad. And it would be such a smart move for Germany that, unfortunately, it goes beyond what German politicians can probably imagine. But maybe I am wrong.
What Angela Merkel had to say when she congratulated Donald Trump gives me some hope that Germans could understand what once made America great and make the country the Land of the Free if others have no use for it:
“Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.”
And more on a personal note: I’d so love to be swamped by Americans even if you bring your weird customs with you, like „Christmas pickles“ that are totally unknown in Germany.
Open borders for Americans!