By Soumya Bahuguna
A world of unsympathetic hosts
Immigration, in the context of a globalized labour force and the Syrian refugee crisis, has been vociferously opposed. Hungary and Poland have closed their doors to Syrian refugees. Donald Trump threatens to “build a wall”, enforce a moratorium on visas and institute a “Muslim Registry” to salvage the lost American Dream. Along with the Brexit, these political-cultural phenomena are representative of the widespread existence of perceived injustice and inequality, and a nagging sense of “being left behind”. Populist heroes donning patriotic capes pledge to save their beloved nations from alarming unemployment levels, depleting resources and overcrowding. This is a treatment worse than the disease; the result is panic, resentment, more bigotry and more racism.
The alt-right movement in the United States, with its white supremacist, xenophobic and Islamophobic demographic, so vehemently opposed to multiculturalism and immigration, is an extreme representation of brewing global discontent. Given the dominance of migration in human history and the ensuing ‘epiphany’ that populist leaders and their respective vote banks may have immigrant ancestors, outrage against human movement marks an irreverent disregard for the past. (Hello, America!)
Migration – An old order
Migration has defined the history of human civilization and demography, so it is hard to imagine a world without it.
The Age of Exploration led to the “discovery” of the New World which would later be occupied by immigrants. Babur’s migration from Kabul preceded the rise of the Mughal Empire. The Jewish Exodus of the twentieth century saw the movement of a million Jews from Arab countries to Israel, France and the US due to rampant persecution and anti-Semitism. The Aborigines with no immunity contracted new diseases like smallpox and influenza following the colonization of Australia. American culture received a fillip with the migration of the great Russian composers, or white émigrés, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. And the abominable transatlantic slave trade marked one of the darkest periods in human history. Change, good and bad, unites these disparate experiences.
The nature of migration today is different, and yet the same. The Jews are no longer wandering and the boundaries of human civilization are now known. But the advent of capitalism, globalization, urbanization and the development of transport have generated better economic opportunities and lent greater mobility to populations. Civil wars, religious conflict and terrorism seem to have replaced slave trade, with the agonizing Syrian refugee crisis taking centre stage.
The aspiring immigrants
The “threat” of increased mobility and terrorism to local populations is amplified by irresponsible politics. This has created an atmosphere of insecurity and xenophobia that lies behind the fervent demands for increased protectionism. However, the world today is too interconnected for backward-looking policies that restrict the movement of human populations. In fact, there are reasons to encourage immigration. Migrants bring with them new ideas: Businesses started by immigrants create jobs and add value to the economy.
Immigrant founders started almost half of all new Silicon Valley companies between 1995 and 2005. Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, is a Russian immigrant; Jan Koum, the founder of Whatsapp, migrated from Ukraine with his family when he was young; and the “American” apparel brand, Forever 21, is the brainchild of a Korean businessman. As economist Jonathan Portes points out, immigration is not a zero-sum game where players contest for a fixed pool of jobs. The pool contracts and expands as jobs “taken away” are balanced out by jobs created by immigrants.
The refugee’s value addition
An inflow of human populations can stimulate the local economy by creating demand for locally manufactured goods.
In an era of globalized trade, anti-immigrant policies can only wreak havoc.
They sour trade relations with other countries and threaten multilateralism. This endangers the health of the global economy as a whole: a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. If government spending remains the same or is affected negligibly by immigration, the argument that immigrants drain government coffers does not hold.
The intolerance wrought by anti-immigrant policies can permeate into other spheres triggering a domino effect of suspicion and distrust that can rip apart the social fabric of any nation, disrupting economic activity. In fact, an atmosphere that fosters multiculturalism, tolerance, peace and harmony is conducive to economic growth.If the ethical argument of opening doors to refugees as a matter of extending basic human rights is not enough, the corollary that cooperative gestures contribute to economic stability in the long run by inculcating the right values should appeal to the “rational” mind.
Finally, the very definitions of immigration and mobility are contentious. Establishing rigid national borders can intensify demands for intra-national bans on the movement of people on grounds of “protectionism”. How static is too static? Where do we draw the line?