The Open Border concept seems to be the rubric that is getting a lot of attention among immigration specialists these days. It questions the very notion of the nation-state through which human mobility is seen at present.
“If the United States tomorrow announces a visa-on -arrival facility for all travellers, do you think the whole world would soon be on its doorsteps wanting to get in?” asked Irudaya Rajan, an expert on international migration at India’s Centre for Development Studies.
Immigration controls have the opposite effect of what they actually aim at by making the grass look greener on the other side of the barrier, said Rajan. He was in Toronto this month as a keynote speaker at the “Immigration and Settlement: Precarious Futures?” conference organized by the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS).
Rajan said if borders are more open, people would cross them to explore their prospects firsthand. “If what they see is not much better than home, they wouldn’t bother to stay back and endure all the hardships that come with migration.”
He and other speakers at the conference were unanimous in stating that impaired mobility of labour leads to many distortions and even criminalizes migration. They said although governments and societies are well aware of the benefits of migration, it is considered too sensitive an issue to discuss.
‘Fifth populous country’
But the proverbial elephant in our global room is so large that if immigrants across the world were to form a country, it would be the fifth most populous with 212 million people.
With one in 33 people on the planet being an international migrant, the collective opinion at the conference was that in a “world without borders,” freer labour mobility represents the biggest opportunity in global development.
However, what we have is a world shrinking in spite of itself, amid stricter immigration control, said Bridget Anderson, an Oxford University professor and another keynote speaker at the RCIS conference. The lack of mobility for the world’s poor translates to global inequality between countries being higher than inequalities within countries, Anderson said.
Keeping out the poor and letting in the rich has come to be seen as a well designed immigration policy, said Anderson. Developed countries look at migrants on a sliding scale and judge their ability to fit the paradigm of Good Citizens/Failed Citizens or remain as Non-Citizens, she said. “Restrictions and punishments once imposed on vagrants and ‘master-less men’ are now the preserve of immigration controls, but the connection between the migrant and the vagabond is missed because the migrant is a foreigner.”
Youth in jeopardy
“The issue with legal status of migrants is that it affects us inter-generationally,” said
Mehrunnisa Ali, a conference organizer and professor at Ryerson’s School of Early Childhood Studies. “It has a long-term effect and is not limited to just the first-generation migrant.”
Evidence and research observations about social outcomes for second-generation immigrant youth have increasingly exposed issues that include homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area, racialization and identity. “Until their status is resolved, they are in jeopardy,” said Francis Hare, a professor of child and youth care at Ryerson.
Non-Citizens and Failed Citizens risk being characterized by politicians and pundits as benefits scroungers, criminals and scammers. They also become pawns in political games about job losses as witnessed in Canada last month when the temporary foreign workers issue put federal immigration policy under scrutiny and resulted in a Band-Aid solution that could further disadvantage migrants.
“Canada’s immigration is being overhauled without adequate public debate and evidence that government programs are working,” said Harald Bauder, academic director of the RCIS and organizer of the conference. “What we really need is a vision, or at least an explanation, about what government intends for this important sector of our economy and society.”
Canadians found themselves viscerally reacting last month to a new economic reality and a perceived bias in favour of temporary foreign workers. According to Statistics Canada, temporary workers surged to a record two million last year – expanding nearly three times as fast as permanent immigrants from 2009 to 2012. Last year, Canada relied on temporary workers to fill 13.6 per cent of the job market.
“But temporary work breeds uncertainty and can lead to financial strain and precariousness – experienced by Canadian and temporary foreign workers alike,” said Bauder. “It was a common theme heard among more than 150 researchers and conference presenters”. – New Canadian Media
Ranjit is a Toronto-based writer with interest in Canadian civic affairs, immigration, the environment and motoring. Maytree and Al Jazzera English alumnus.