One of the keyhole solutions that have been offered for the many claimed harms of immigration is the use and expansion of guest worker programs. Many people have objected to guest worker programs on the grounds that such programs create “second class residents” (often called “second class citizens” though that term is somewhat inaccurate since guest workers are not granted citizenship). The crux of this objection is that there is something fundamentally wrong about different people in the same geographic region having different bundles of privileges, specifically that some people can vote and others can’t, or that some people have access to various aspects of the welfare state and others don’t.
One of the motivations behind the second-class residents objection might be local inequality aversion.
Interestingly, the “second-class residents” objection is raised by people on both ends of the open borders debate. It is also argued against by people on both ends of the open border debate.
- Restrictionists making the second-class residents argument: Some restrictionists view immigration as an “all-or-none” deal — either a person immigrates with full political privileges and welfare state access rights, or the person doesn’t immigrate at all. This, combined with their views of the various harms associated with immigration, leads them to a “low-immigration, pro-immigrant” stance such as that of the Center for Immigration Studies.
- Open borders advocates making the second-class residents argument: Some open borders advocates wish to see the border open and believe that compromise regarding the political privileges and welfare state access benefits of immigrants is not acceptable. So, they support open borders and reject guest worker programs.
- Restrictionists who reject the second-class residents argument: Many restrictionists are open to considering guest worker programs if these substitute away from existing immigration, but are not keen to expand such programs to increase the overall quantity of immigration. Such restrictionists usually think that the evils of immigration with full political privileges are greater than the possible evil or injustice of the “second-class residents” dynamic created by guest worker programs.
- Open borders advocates who reject the second-class residents argument: These are typically people who are pushing for changes to the status quo and are willing to make compromises in the rights of immigrants to enable larger quantities of immigration. Many of these open borders advocates also hail from a libertarian tradition that treats voting privileges and welfare state access rights as instrumentally useful rather than fundamental/inalienable rights, so they don’t see it as a massive injustice if a system gives people an option to voluntarily forego some political privileges or welfare state benefits in exchange for migrating to the destination of their choice.
For a conceptual framework within which both the arguments for and against second-class residents can be understood, see the blog post six possible positions on a specific keyhole solution.
Below are some examples of people making the second-class residents argument.
In an ISIL interview quoted in the blog post Milton Friedman Opposed a Pareto Improvement, Milton Friedman tentatively voiced this objection (though he didn’t come to a firm conclusion either way):
Q: Instead of a green card [resident alien status], can the USA issue a blue card which does not give welfare?
A: If you could do that, that would be fine. But I don’t believe you can do that. It’s not only that it is not politically feasible, I don’t think that it is desirable to have two classes of citizens in a society. We want a free society. We want a society in which every individual is treated as an end in themselves. We don’t want a society in which some people are in there under blue conditions, others are in there under red conditions, others are in there under black conditions. We want a free society. So I don’t believe such ….
I haven’t really ever thought of that system. It’s a new question. I very rarely get a new question, but I must admit that’s a new question for me. And I haven’t really thought about it a great deal, but my initial reaction is that it’s a very undesirable proposal.
In a blog post titled Open borders and the Welfare State, Tino Sanandaji writes:
Open borders and an abolished welfare state can only be combined in a nightmare society where immigrants and their children are never allowed to vote.
For me the choice is simple, I prefer Democracy to Open Borders. If a country decides to take immigrants, they have to be included 100% with full rights, and not permanent second-class citizens.
In a response comment on another blog post, Evan writes:
I call BS on this. If you’re interested in actually helping people, letting a lot of them come here to work and not granting them citizenship and voting rights is morally superior to only letting a few of them in, but letting those few vote. The first option simply enriches more people.
Opposing “second-class citizens” is a red herring because you’re going to have second-class citizens either way. If you don’t let immigrants in they’ll still be permanent second-class citizens, the only difference is that they’ll be ultra-poor second-class citizens on the other side of the border instead of slightly poor second-class citizens on your side of the border.