There have been several articles on immigration in the past, mostly from a theoretical perspective of liberty and immigration. I decided to write about what I would see as a more practical approach to immigration. I will restate that I am not a fully open borders libertarian, that as long as sovereign states exist – and they do for now – they need to be able to exercise some measure of control over the borders of their jurisdiction. As such, as I see the need for a policy. The merit of open/closed borders is not a subject for this post. This is a post about controlled immigration and mostly about compromises in policy. Furthermore, this is not a “ in libertopia these things would be solved by private property” argument. While this argument has its merits, sadly we do not live in libertopia and there is a distinct lack of cocaine vending machines in my vicinity.
First and main point: if you are going to have a government, the basic function of that government is preservation of rights, laws and in general the King’s Peace. From this I conclude that the absolute lowest constraint to immigration policy should be the ability of the government to ensure this, for the both the existing and the new residents. This starts with preventing violent criminals and sever contagious diseases, and moves on from there.
The second point is that for any location, the infrastructure at a given point is of a given size and can accommodate a given number of people. Exceeding this number can be workable, if uncomfortable. Greatly exceeding it can get unworkable. Off course, immigrants often mean economic growth and development, but this takes time – building houses, roads, hospitals and so on. If the population of Austin Texas would all move tomorrow to Houston Texas, there would be no room. If the population gradually arrives over years, expansion can happen.
Some open borders people say that it worked for the US in certain times in the past, but did it really? Or was the press at the time bemoaning immigrants living in overcrowded, insalubrious diseased slums? The same thing happened during the industrial revolution: when a lot of people moved from the country to the city, the lived in cramped, crowded, rather unsanitary conditions. The same thing happens now in certain immigrant areas of Europe. The left waive this away as due to the evil of capitalism, but in general more homes do not appear out of thin air and the “empty homes of the rich” are not that many. Even the left prescription of the government building housing takes time.
A form of current open borders policy is the EU, but this was not done right away. It was accomplished by sort of applying the rules: a country was allowed in when it was considered it was ready and would not excessively disrupt others. Romania made it in 2007 with some extra restrictions until 2012. Even now Romania is not a full member of the Schengen area. So this is another form of controlled access, in the end.
We must also keep in mind, not being libertopia, there are political constraints. If a lot of immigrants come in and start creating issues – camping in parks, squatting on private land, creating piles of trash, solving this by having police or military go in force is both dangerous as a precedent for the society and untenable in certain situations, due to the uproar it causes among the bleeding hearted ones. Now, I cannot prescribe this or that number of immigrants for this or that country, but these are things that cannot be ignored completely.
In my view, existing residents do have some claims that new comers do not: they contributed to the building of the respective country, they – or their ancestors – have invested labor and capital, build houses, planted trees and all that. They have significant skin in the game that a new comer does not have right away, and as such newcomers must be mindful of these and respect the existing society, and policy must reflect that by not promoting mindless “multiculturalism.”
It is too often that people move to a place and want to keep their existing culture and behavior intact, without adapting to the new place. This cannot always work. This is significantly more important for people moving from a low prosperity country to a high prosperity one. Just like the great strings of bad luck which derailed socialist policies, many of these people do not make a link between the difference in culture and the difference in prosperity. They want to move to a new place and keep doing what wrecked the first one. This is nonsensical. Furthermore, there are some social mores to be respected. Romanians, to take a simple example, moving to Switzerland cannot keep their habit of eating sunflower seeds and spitting husks on the pavement, without expecting upset Swiss. All these must be kept in mind for a workable policy.
I cannot see value in visas like US H1B, which tie the immigrant to a certain company or job. This can welcome abuse and it is not good for either the immigrant or the natives – from a labor market perspective. I feel my preferred policy in the current world would be something vaguely similar to the New Zealand points system. Give people points for good characteristics, deduct for bad. There would be deal breakers – criminal records for serious crime, dangerous diseases, participation in serious gangs, criminal or terrorist organization, published intent to harm the new country. There would be points received for experience in skilled work, spotless records, speaking the language, education, having assets or capital to bring to the new country. Points would be deducted for misdemeanors, not speaking the language, not having any education or skills to speak of. In the end decide how many points are needed to get in.
After the immigration there would be a number of years of probation – be on your best behavior, prove you have attempted to integrate in the new culture. Any crime in this period means deportation. Not learning the language to a tolerable level at the end of 5 years should be frowned upon severely. In this period you may need to occasionally offer proof of employment and of residence in proper conditions, not 100 people registered in the same apartment. You may be required to have some sort of liability insurance in case you cause damage. After 5 years you could become a full resident, eventually with a path to citizenship.
Given the current climate on immigration, another thorny issue arises for immigration policy, politically and maybe practically. That is very delicate for libertarians as it is rather counter the ideology: can this policy be purely individual or will some collectivism inevitably sneak in. When you see a certain group commit a significantly disproportionate amount of bad things, can you submit members of that group to additional scrutiny? Or to rephrase, in certain cases people group other people in categories out of convenience. And people notice patterns. Should these patterns be used? I have to admit that I do have some reticence about certain immigration in Europe, but would not support blanked bans on whole categories. But can using patterns for some extra scrutiny be warranted? I am not sure I know myself. As a Romanian I have been on both ends of such conversations.
Of course, this are general guidelines I have yet to think of the actual points involved and how to add them up. But it is what I think can be a start for some countries. Opinions or are we all in agreement?