Issue 7, January 2009
|Regulation of Immigration|
It is the prerogative of sovereign nations to regulate international migration across their borders. Host countries are concerned with both the number and type of potential immigrants.
Restricting Those on the Move
There are numerous official policies countries typically put in place to control immigration. They include:
These measures are generally overseen by a large bureaucracy of federal and state offices which field application requests from potential immigrants. Requests for permission to enter a country are typically made at host country embassies or at points of entry into the host country.
Applications for immigration and asylum-seeking are sometimes processed by host country officials in a would-be migrant’s country of origin or some other third country, in order to improve the verification of application details (accessing home country records) and to prevent illegal immigration.
Enforcement of Immigration Policies
A variety of enforcement measures exist to implement immigration regulations and frustrate illegal entry. These are carried out by a wide range of government officials from customs and immigration officials tax bodies, and attorneys to local and state police. Some enforcement measures include:
Current immigration policies of popular destination countries are characterized as “wide doors, strong borders,” managing migration by determining who comes, how, and what they do when they arrive. Regulations and enforcement focus on what is known as the “migration industry,” (see Migration: How?) as well as on the migrant himself. In this way, countries attempt to address not only the supply of migrants but the demand for them, by holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers.
Formal legal regulation and enforcement are only part of the picture. The manner in which these measures are implemented on the ground often has the effect of deterring legal and illegal immigrants. By making the formal requirements inconvenient and burdensome to potential migrants, host countries can informally restrict applicants. This occurs when paperwork is unduly complicated, expensive, or not sufficiently translated; or when applicants are required to travel to file papers or to produce supporting documents that are difficult to obtain from their home country governments.
Procedural restrictions also come into effect when customs or immigration officials are insufficiently trained or are allowed excessive discretion over individual applicants’ cases. Many a migrant has been turned away or required to complete unnecessary steps based on the personal decision of the official he encounters at the border, on the phone, or at the embassy. Many experts feel this is an informal way of privileging skilled migrants – allowing a country to “cherry pick” the most talented immigrants while still maintaining an officially liberal immigration policy.
Effectiveness of Immigration Regulation
Most experts agree that these policies and procedures are not very effective in stemming the tide of immigration to developed nations. In the words of frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs, Jadish Bhagwati, “Paradoxically, the ability to control migration has shrunk as the desire to do so has increased.” The general consensus is that attempts to regulate certain types of migration usually result in an increase in other types of migration – the classic “whack a mole” dilemma. Overall numbers are not affected – it is only the “where” and “how” that are impacted. Restrictions on economic migrants creates more refugees and asylum-seekers, and vice versa. Changes in family reunification policies create more worker applicants and vice versa. Transit countries like those in North Africa and Southern Europe become destination countries as populations awaiting processing by the EU swell in number and increasingly stay in these countries. Perhaps most importantly, any decrease in legal migration allowances creates more illegal or irregular migrants. The pressures for migration – economic and demographic – show no signs of abating, and people who are motivated by powerful pushes and pulls will find ways around restrictions. Moreover, the migration industry becomes savvier with every tightening of the system. Specifically:
The Difficulty of Immigration Regulation in Liberal Societies
The most popular countries of destination in the world are largely democratic, liberal societies (democratic and liberal in lower case letters signifying a commitment to and protection of civil liberties). It is extraordinarily difficult for these countries to control the movement and employment of people as a totalitarian society might. Major receiving countries like the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany tend to place a high premium on civil rights among their own citizens, and by extension generally provide similar protections to all residents. The treatment of immigrants tests these nations’ commitments to their own democratic principles and to international principles of human rights. They are frequently hampered in attempts to control immigration by their own laws, court systems, and rhetoric.
In addition, these countries, as creators and advocates of international institutions, are under more pressure from the international community to honor international conventions and norms. For example:
In attempting to control migration, the major destination countries are highly vulnerable to naming and shaming from human rights advocates, nationally and internationally. Immigration expert Christian Joppke has written that wealthy industrial democracies are thus, in large part, “self-limited” in pursuing stringent immigration controls. A de-facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach often prevails and represents a passive tolerance of irregular migration.
Reducing Incentives for Migration
Reducing the Pulls
Many of the official and procedural regulations described above are designed, in part, to reduce the pulls a migrant may feel toward a host nation. For many, these “hoops” diminish the attractiveness of relocating to the country in question, by making it prohibitively burdensome or expensive.
Countries may also diminish their attractiveness to certain types of migrants by enacting domestic policies that serve as deterrents. These include measures such as California’s Proposition 187, passed in the 1990s, that limited access to public education, welfare, and health care for illegal immigrants. Onerous banking policies regarding remittances are another way of exerting influence on the immigrant. Policies at the local level regarding bi-lingual instruction in the public school system can also impact “pulls” migrants feel for certain locales. Community mores and attitudes may serve as de-facto immigration restrictions if migrants feel discriminated against or unwelcome. Nativism and xenophobia are powerful deterrents; many countries of destination are home to right-wing political parties espousing anti-immigrant platforms.
Reducing the Pushes
Destination countries are often wealthy countries, and as such, are players in designing international development policies. From aid to trade, to philanthropy and foreign investment, to military intervention and climate change mitigation, host countries can impact the quality of life in developing countries. See the Global Poverty and International Development edition of the World Savvy Monitor for more detail.
Fundamentally, MDCs provide the resources that drive international development, and they theoretically hold the power to diminish the “pushes” a citizen of an LDC might feel to migrate. By addressing economic inequality among the nations of the world, many experts feel that the developed world can help potential migrants stay home. From wages to jobs to quality of life, making the experience of staying home more bearable may be the answer to regulating migration flows at their source.
Interestingly, this is where two of the major conundrums facing developed nations collide: