Envisaging a world without controls on immigration
2015-11-15 12:39:53 -

Asdrubal Santana


Nowadays, migration is one of the hot topics in international politics. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe is helping to reintroduce into the public debate the advantages and disadvantages of opening borders, a discussion where nobody feels indifferent.


Lant Pritchett, a professor at Harvard University, is one of the most quoted academics in this field. Author of multiple publications and online blogs, Pritchett is a controversial researcher who strongly supports the relaxation of immigration rules.


In a recent interview with the BBC, he said that opening borders for migrants is good for the markets. “When governments arbitrarily impose a barrier between the price of a good in one place and the price of the same good elsewhere, there are massive benefits when trading between them is allowed, and that includes the case of the labour force mobility between the two countries,” he explained.


According to Pritchett’s studies, each time that a person from a developing country moves to the United States, there is $15,000 in productivity profit per year. “That’s because people are more productive once they move to a developed country,” he said, “which means that their bosses earn more money and that the immigrants increase their income at the same time.”


Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and who leads the migration and development initiative, is another big supporter of these ideas. In a paper published in the Guardian, he stated that “the world impoverishes itself much more through blocking international migration than any other single class of international policy”.


He believes that the relaxation of barriers to human mobility between countries “would bring more global economic prosperity than the total elimination of all remaining policy barriers to goods trade”.


However, critics often say that allowing immigration from poor countries, especially skilled people, will harm the same countries afterwards.


“There is no evidence of that,” he says in his blog on the CGD website. “There is no serious research in social science to demonstrate that a policy of blocking talented or educated people from leaving any poor neighbourhood, poor rural area, or poor nation has ever caused any of those places to develop – not in any sense, not to any degree.”


And what happens to the local low-skilled workers in the host countries? Are their jobs at risk? Both of the academics say that there is not empirical proof that these workers are seriously affected by immigration. But on the other side, opponents say that low-skilled jobs are not attractive for locals since their salaries are low due to the high number of immigrant labour force available. These critics believe that if there is no immigration, the uptake of this type of job would be higher, the wages better and they would be attractive for locals again.


In any case, the absolute elimination of border barriers seems to be utopia. “It would be an unreal case and the political considerations, including security reasons, it would make it impracticable,” says Princhet.


This argument is also commonly used by the adversaries of a world without borders controls. “People are not goods,” said Peter Brimelow, British-born American writer and founder of the conservative blog VDare. “Economists tend to think that the free movement of goods and services will maximise production, but it is not clear that the same will happen with the free movement of people. They bring political and social consequences with them,” said Brimelow to a Chilean newspaper early this year.


The truth is that migration seems to be one of the main issues of this century. It’s now an unstoppable global social phenomenon that politics and civil society have to embrace in order to make it profitable, safe and beneficial for all. In the end, what is clear is that the debate will remain on the table for years to come.



Asdrubal Santana is a communications specialist whose previous clients include DuPont and Unesco, and a volunteer for NGOs dedicated to promoting human rights and democracy in his native Venezuela. He is currently based in Dublin.

TAGS : Migration Immigration Borders Lant Pritchett Center for Global Development CGD
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