I was at UNESCO to receive Universal Citizenship Passport on May 23. It was really a great day. André Cohen, from Mouvement Utopia wrote an article here as a guest blogger about our celebration for the freedom of movement and settlement.
Freedom of movement and settlement – It used to be a Utopia, it is now a necessity.
As with drug prohibition, sexual and gender education, as well as market regulation, what seems like the greatest difficulty with migratory policies is not imagining realistic alternatives, but establishing that there can, and that in fact there must be alternatives to today’s dead-end repressive consensus among the governing classes of dominant powers.
I will not delve into the complex issues of identity and multiculturalism, save to remind our readers that top anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, historians have established at least four decades ago that identity, be it national, gender, local, class or ethnic, is an ever-fluctuating social construct, which evolves according to the political and social issues of each era. So far, to my knowledge, none of the so-called scientific arguments of the mainly right-wing anti-immigrant populists have succeeded in proving these theories wrong in any substantial way.
No, today, most people I will expose the idea of freedom of movement and settlement will agree with the principle but object that it is unfeasible, utopian, in one word, unrealistic.
Now, in order to escape the most obvious counterargument, that of security issues, I will immediately make it clear that free movement and opened border policies are not the same thing. Indeed, as a European citizen, I have full freedom to enter Great Britain, Germany or any other neighboring country, and the right to settle and work there too. It does not mean however, that all these borders are unmanned, that the border patrols, customs officers and coast guards have all been let off. These borders, rife with cameras, mobile patrols and immigration service officers, are as “safe” as they ever have been, and the army and police can do their job looking for contraband, weapons, terrorists, criminals and smugglers. And Germany or Spain are free to kick me out if I behave improperly. Now that is made clear, I will show why, to me, the global freedom of movement and settlement is not a danger, but a necessity.
The invasion of the poor
The idea most often heard in rich countries regarding open immigration policies is the following: opening our borders would bring about a foreign invasion of poor people, a massive flow of starving masses, which would tear apart the national social fabric. They point to this or that neighborhood, this or that passageway to Europe, this or that crisis or conflict sending thousands of refugees at our doors.
As it turns out, most of it is not to be feared: of the more than 200 million migrants around the world, the immense majority have migrated from a southern country to another southern country, or from a northern country to another. This represents somewhere along 80% of migrations, leaving us with approximately 20% of South-to-North migratory trajectories. Not much of an invasion.
Moreover, despite our heavily armed and sealed borders being both costly and inefficient, letting through thousands of migrants, the total share of illegal immigrants among the world total is estimated at around 2%, a lot of them in a few major regions where the demand for a low-cost, undocumented labor force is concentrated. This explains both why the poorest neighborhoods in these regions are often cited as counterexamples, and why they are not representative of any major trend.
Another important factor here: we often cite the number of migrants who, legally or not, make it into rich countries, but rarely do the right-wing politicians evoke the number who willingly leave. It’s like they can barely imagine someone wanting to go back to Asia or Africa. Who would want that? I mean our Northern democracies are so much more civilized and…well, better!
In truth, a clear majority of migrants head back home after an average stay of 6 years. In the case of France, the share of migrants who leave within ten years of their arrival is 60%! And this share is comparable in most wealthy countries.
So, there we are with these few thousand people getting around our border fences and into rich countries, most of them planning to eventually go back to their countries of origin. It doesn’t seem like any invasion to me, but for the sake of debate, let’s admit this number could increase significantly if borders were suddenly opened. What then, would be our issues?
The first issue in the case of rich countries with well-developed models of welfare State is the perceived “social burden” that migrants would constitute, too often represented as slothful paupers enjoying a “Western lifestyle” without working or women with five or more children profiting from our school systems and child assistance policies. While everyone who lives or works in the bleak de-industrialized zones of these countries may be able to name an example of unemployed migrants who have given up on looking for a job, statistics show us this is anything but the main trend. The great majority of migrants are working age people who are quite productive and pay taxes (in many cases, undocumented workers pay taxes anyway, but do not have access to most public services). In fact, according to the World Bank’s figures for the early 2000’s migrants had brought over 160 billion dollars to the economies of industrialized countries. So in fact, migrants contribute quite heavily to our economies, on average more than non-migrants (since they are net contributors to State budgets that are in deficit), which can partially be explained by the fact that most are working-age, and even young and in good shape, in countries that are on average not so young anymore, and that so many leave before retirement age.
So not only does the deportation of an undocumented migrant very costly (costing a country such as France an estimated 700 million to 2 billion euros a year), it actually hurts the economy quite a bit. In fact, the risks taken to enter northern countries are such that although they don’t effectively deter candidates to immigration, they do deter migrants from going to their countries of origin, knowing full well that they would have trouble coming back. So these policies actually artificially creates undocumented workers (who feel stuck in the host country) and illegal immigration (by kicking out migrants who sneak back in).
Now to picture exactly how much this costs us, you must also take into account the effect of migrations on countries of origin. While these are not always positive (we’ve all heard of the infamous “brain drain”), they can be amazingly powerful on local and even national scales. Indeed, the money sent home by migrants is the first source of income of several different countries, in a few cases representing more than a third of the national income. Moreover, if you take all the combined sums sent back home to migrants’ families, this adds up (in 2007, once again according to the World Bank) to something around 337 billion dollars. This represents a whooping three times the total amount of the international aid to developing countries – probably a lot more considering the amount of that declared aid which simply consists in tax breaks for investors, debt reduction and canceling, and transfers to poor territories within rich countries, such as the American Samoa or the French Overseas Territories.
As we can see, not only are migrations a powerful factor for the development of their countries of origin, they also outbid the industrialized countries’ participation to this effort by a three-to-one ratio, which is that much less that rich countries have to give to avoid this or that country’s economic collapse.
The reserve army of capital
A second common perception of immigration which is widely spread by populist right-wing circles is that immigrants are the tools of the rich to keep the wages low, thus taking the “nationals”’s job away from them and driving them into poverty.
While in some cases, this statement is somewhat true, and much has been written about the subject by scholars much more knowledgeable than me on the matter, I can safely claim that this is not the case in a great number of cases.
In fact, a large number of unqualified jobs are unwanted by the local work force, not only because of the low wages but also due to the terrible work hours and working conditions, and above all for their near-complete absence of promotion perspectives (a terrible thing for those brought up in the Western myth of meritocracy). Among these, the most frequently cited are the lower wrung of construction jobs (dangerous, tiring), cooking job in restaurants (long and intense hours, terrible heat), gardening jobs (long hours, cold, rain and heat, very low wages), fruit-picking (only a part of the year, with very long days), janitorial jobs (dirty, thankless, exposed to toxic products and often in the very early morning), some factory jobs (noisy, exhausting and repetitive), taxi driving (long hours, irregular wage), and trash pick-up (dirty, early morning, quite physical). One striking example is that of slaughterhouses in French and German countrysides: since nobody in even remote villages is willing to do the dirty work, slaughterhouses have been recruiting out in the Turkish hill villages and Romanian hamlets, where the slaughter of chicken and goats is still an ordinary sight.
For most people growing up in rich countries, the wage is just not worth this kind of effort, risk-taking and degradation. Life is just better on public assistance or some part-time job as a clerk. These are the jobs European and North-American youth are just not raised to want. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs that have stayed vacant despite four decades of mass unemployment.
Another factor that makes this fear of the job-thieves unrealistic is the demographic trend in Europe (as well as in Japan, and to a lesser extent, North America), where the average couple has less than to children, making the workforce shrink from year to year. Finally, one has to say that this prejudiced view is based on the perception of migrants as necessarily unqualified. This has never been father from the truth. Beyond the fact that over a fifth of African doctors have left the continent for Northern countries, today more than 40% of incoming migrants to France are college-level students, that is more than the percentage in the native French population.
Even if the number of immigrant workers necessary to keep Europe’s economy afloat given by the U.N., 195 million people needed by 2025, is arguably excessive; even if one can also think of ways to stimulate the economy by raising wages and making the working conditions in these undesirable jobs less stressful, one must agree on the fact that putting the full blame on the employers is sometimes not justified, and criminalizing the immigrant is a lot more absurd.
In fact, there is no correlation between unemployment levels and immigration, and such high-immigration countries such as Switzerland, Australia and Canada keep their unemployment levels far below the OECD average, while regions that house fewer immigrants, such as western Ireland, central Greece, eastern Germany and southern Italy often struggle with persistent unemployment problems.
These are a few of the arguments against anti-immigrant rhetoric that are backed by solid science and statistics. But once one proves migrants are good for the economy, only half the job is done. And numbers alone can’t show how much more than money is at stake by allowing migrants to travel freely.
Beyond the migrator economicus
To show the full picture, one has to take into account the dramatic human consequences of repressive migratory policies: migrant workers who’s only crime is their nationality are routinely detained, mistreated, deported; the filtering process for asylum seekers and refugees has become so rigged that less than 10% of files are accepted. While there certainly are some fakers, hundreds upon hundreds of cases of actual refugees sent back to war zones, dangerous situations, ravaged homes and miserable refugee camps. Every year, cases are revealed of people being denied asylum and getting killed just days after deportation, and many more people are jailed on arrival, with some countries considering illegal emigration a crime.
Moreover, over the last thirty years, thousands of migrants have died trying to enter northern countries through ever more dangerous routes.
The cultural aspect, taking into account all the cultural, linguistic, human wealth created by interactions between different people cannot be quantified but must surely be put forward. Immigrants today bring a huge influx of talent into scientific, musical, athletic, artistic sectors of industrialized countries.
But the bottom line argument is that of equity: today, the injustice created by the two tier travel system, residents of the global North being encouraged to study abroad, explore tourist destinations and take on jobs that let them travel around the world business class while citizens of southern countries are forced, sometimes brutally, to stay at home, no matter what their reason for traveling may be.
If you find these arguments convincing, I encourage you to learn more about the Organization for a Universal Citizenship and sign our Call for global freedom of movement and settlement, posted below.
Let’s see what the organization for a Universal Citizenship says about universal citizenship and for freedom of movement and settlement of people on a global scale!
We, citizens and representatives of organizations from the various continents, united within the Organization for a Universal Citizenship, call for universal citizenship and the freedom of movement and settlement.
Today, a change of policy in the field of migrations has become necessary: the systems that regulate migrations are essentially prerogatives of the States and are therefor no longer adapted to the realities of migrations in the 21st century, marked by globalization. These systems trample what constitutes, in our eyes, a fundamental right inscribed in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These regulative systems institutionalize a two-tier mobility: the more privileged countries can offer their citizens almost limitless travel possibilities, whereas three quarters of humanity cannot escape a form of de facto home imprisonment. This indeed leads to outrageous administrative processes, excessive financial guarantee conditions, working conditions reminiscent of slave labor and a growing criminalization of illegal immigration… Migrants have today become victims of arbitrary decisions and institutional violence as well as preys for criminal networks.
In a number of Northern countries, we see a resurgence of myths built on fear and on xenophobic and racist prejudice. These feed into multiple forms of political intoxication and exploitation; they nourish the most reactionary currents, dangerously waving the fables of foreign invasion, of threats upon national identity and of the dangers of a so-called impossible integration. The prejudices then serve as basis for the most irrational closed-border policies and as justifications for the systematic violations of the most fundamental rights conferred to migrants by international treaties and conventions.
More tragically, the closing and militarization of borders, most notably those of Europe, North America and Australia have revealed themselves to be a murderous system for thousands of people over more than two decades. Costly in human lives, this system is also costly in public funds, throwing away several hundred million dollars, in times of recession, all for obviously inefficient results.
We believe it is illusory to think that closed borders and controlled migratory flows can stop those who have lost all hope of a better life at home from taking their chances elsewhere. We are also certain that we can’t stop those whose living environment has been destroyed by the ecological crisis from moving to greener pastures either. Climate refugees, already an estimated 38 million people today, could number as many as 150 million by 2050.
It is urgent to finally take an appeased look at migration as an ordinary social fact, a characteristic of times past, present and future, deeply related to global transformations of which they are both a cause and a consequence.
We’ve learned that humanity has built its history and wealth through migrations: it is an error and a denial to think it could be otherwise in the future.
We are determined to act today, in order to guarantee that every person’s fundamental rights be respected.
We call for the organization of an international conference in the United Nations on the theme of freedom of movement and settlement, and for the adoption of a legally binding international convention on this subject. It should be prepared by broad talks between all parties involved.
We invite everyone to support a strong symbolic initiative : the Universal Citizenship Passport. This Passport will serve as a travel document, recognized by signatory States, and will symbolize their engagement for the respect of migrants’ rights and for the recognition of the freedom of movement and settlement as a fundamental right for every human being, based on Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
We demand the effective recognition of a universal citizenship for each inhabitant of our planet, guaranteeing for each person access to fundamental rights in each country where he may travel or reside. We also demand the parallel separation of citizenship from nationality, as is already partially the case in such frames as the European Union, the Mercosur, the CEDEAO or the Trans Tasman Travel Agreement.
Consequently, we call upon the associative and citizen movements, NGO’s, political parties, trade unions, social movements as well as economic actors who share our vision to support our initiatives, to spread our messages and to join the Organization for a Universal Citizenship.
We also call the States and their governments, the commonwealths and international organizations to join our Universal Citizenship Passport project and to struggle for the recognition of the effective right to a freedom of movement and settlement by international and United Nations institutions. We encourage them to sign multilateral agreements in favor of free circulation, to introduce national policies opening their borders and to guarantee the rights of migrants.
Finally, we call each citizen to mobilize for universal citizenship and for the global freedom of movement and settlement. We incite you to put pressure on all political levels for these perspectives to become realities.
Paris, May 23rd 2013.
Everything is so perfect! I just can’t stop loving it!