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Eureka: What is exactly an immigrant?
by Jay Gutman
2016-12-01 11:29:17
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migran01_400Now that leaders around the world are talking about deporting illegal immigrants and restricting immigration, what exactly is an immigrant?

Roughly, there are seven types of foreign nationals that can reside in your country. Such foreign nationals can move from one category to another during their stay in your country, such as someone who came as a student, found employment, then married a local. Others come as students and start businesses, dropping their studies, while others come as tourists or short-term students and overstay their visa, while still others did not have authorization to enter your country, and came by hiding in a car or vessel that entered the country legally.

Now to the different categories of immigrants.

Type 1: Foreign government officials and dignitaries

They used to be the most common form of immigrant, and it’s safe to say they are now among the least common type of immigrant. Governments, armies or state-owned businesses can send dignitaries or officials to work in your country. It’s difficult to find sub-categories as some of them can be quite blurry: in the United States embassy staff can not assist local business or find business opportunities and can only serve as go-betweens and there’s a clear line between business, the military and government. In East Asia for example the line between diplomacy, business and the military is a lot more blurred, that is you can have an army official who has an office at the embassy but also actively seeks clients for his country’s mobile phone company or construction company among others.  The length of stay varies from dignitary to dignitary and from country to country. African and Middle Eastern states are famous for sending dignitaries to a foreign country for a lifetime, while other countries like to change their rosters frequently.

Type 2: Short-term visitors (usually those who intend to stay for less than six months)

They play music and want to tour your country, are entertainers such as theater actors or dancers, or there’s a sporting event in your country they have to attend. Perhaps there’s a festival and they want to promote their country’s food or business, or want to do business prospection and find clients in your country. Or perhaps they simply want to stay at a resort in your country and relax, or perhaps there’s a seasonal agricultural activity in your country in an isolated area locals don’t want to venture to and you bring seasonal laborers, or perhaps a foreign professor to teach a semester at a local school. Ideally such migrants take care of business and go back to their countries, but sometimes they find a job, fall in love with a local, a war breaks out in their country or they simply feel comfortable in your country and want to stay.

Type 3: Students (short and long term)

The main reason a country will want foreign students to study is blurry. In some cases like the United Kingdom, the policy is clear: the UK wants to educate foreign nationals so they can stay because the country believes there’s a shortage when it comes to having an educated workforce. Canada and Australia have policies somewhere along those lines as well. The United States, France, Japan and South Korea have a different line of thought: they believe they have the resources and quality of education that is not present in other countries and want to offer students better training and education opportunities than they would in their home countries, but also, quite often, want them to go back to their countries once they have their degrees in hand.

So a typical student in the US, France, Japan or South Korea will open a restaurant or business venture and sometimes give up their studies altogether. The reason is simple: such countries demand large investments for business ventures, but also demand that the paperwork be processed within the country, which makes it easier to start off as a student before becoming an investor. Other students in such countries find even better ways to circumvent the law: they know that by marrying a local national they will have significantly reduced paperwork in their business venture or in employment opportunities, which leads to sometimes hasty marriages among such students.

What the news does not mention about international students is that the university completion rate is rather low in most countries. University studies involve discipline, lots of reading and knowledge of the local language and also involve warding off the temptation to lead the kind of hedonistic life many university students lead. Cultural differences are also vast: professors in France don’t care if you show up as long as you ace the test, professors in South Korea don’t care if you ace the test as long as you show up on time, clean and well-groomed. Professors in the United States like students who participate in class, professors in Japan sometimes don’t even allow noise inside the classroom (can’t get up to go to the restroom because that’s noise) while professors in France don’t care if you make noise as long as you’re not talking to them. Such cultural differences can lead to stellar students in one country flunking in another.

So when designing immigration policies for foreign students, governments need to ponder this question: are we training foreign students because we want to keep them and their brains and employ them at the local level, or do we want to bring foreign students because we have good universities and they are a source of income for such universities, but then make them go back to their countries where their skills can sometimes be very difficult to apply at their local economy level? Or to put it in other terms, do we want to train doctors that we will keep, or do we want to train them to use the kind of technology they don’t always have in their home country and send them back to their countries where the hospital system can sometimes be chaotic and pay is rarely on time.

Type 4: Investors

If you have a million dollars in your bank account, it’s safe to say that pretty much every country in the world will open its doors for you to start a business. Some countries can be overly bureaucratic (France, Japan) some will downright invade your business secrets and right to privacy (South Korea) while others will make you sign a few papers and you’re ready to go (Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc.) while others are somewhere in between.

There are three types of businesses for immigrants: those who will produce in your country to sell in their country (textiles in South East Asia, coffee in Latin America) those who will produce in their country and sell in your country (American beef in Asia, wheat in rice-producing countries) and those who will produce in your country to sell in your country (restaurants, all kinds of businesses.)

 Type 5: Professionals

Sometimes a foreign company will open and bring foreign workers along, while other times a local company will decide to hire foreign professional or workers for a variety of reasons. There are four broad reasons why a company would want to hire foreign professionals:

-Immigrants tend to have had training in their home countries. Despite factory work or construction work being categorized as “low-skilled work” a lot of times immigrants get training in such jobs in their home countries before transferring the skills to their adopted countries. The same could be said about cooks, nurses or accountants or any other profession. You can’t just go to a construction site and start working, making such skills valuable.  

-They are part of an exchange program. Some developing countries can sign agreements with advanced economies to send “low-skilled laborers” who will be trained and work in their country of adoption, while they can send part of the wages back home in the form of hard currency. Sometimes such workers provide for their entire village’s economy back home, while the local government often intercepts parts of the income sent home in the form of commissions from the remittances.

-Foreign companies settle and feel more comfortable working with people from their country. Many countries have restrictions on how many workers foreign companies can bring with them from their home country. Some can be very harsh, as in Japan or South Korea where you have to hire 5 local nationals before hiring a foreign national then have to hire five locals for each subsequent foreign national you hire, leading to small businesses not being able to hire workers from their countries other than partners or associates. In most countries though, there are no real restrictions on hiring foreign nationals, except that some countries specify that positions should be advertised locally for a certain amount of time (usually a month or two) before hiring foreign workers.

-Foreign workers who were raised or trained in the local country (assimilated workers). Some came to their country of adoption when they were in their teens, others have the advantage of being bilingual while others were trained locally. Companies hire them because they often see no difference between them and local workers. 

Type 6: Family members and returning adoptees

Many countries will allow foreign workers to bring their families, including parents, wives, children, in some cases extended families, if income enables such immigration. In the old days one household income was enough to sustain a family of up to 15 to 20 people in some European and North American countries, which is no longer really the case. Many countries that gave children for adoption (China, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia etc.) now allow such adoptees to return to their country, either to settle or to look for their families.

Type 7: Illegal immigrants

There are essentially three types of illegal immigrants:

-Those who entered the country illegally. They hid in a boat, car or swam to their adopted countries and were never caught. They live under the radar, but often have a community to help them get around. They have their ways in case they get caught, some trade their identities with legal immigrants or with locals, meaning if they get caught they pretend to be their legal alter-ego for example. Others have fake documentation, most have jobs or occupations, some even have businesses.

-Those who overstay their visas. They were one of the six categories listed above and their visa or stay permit expired. In some countries your visa expires if you lose your job, while in others you have to leave as soon as you complete your studies. Some come on tourist visas and find part-time employment, forget to leave the country to renew their visa, and are afraid to leave because overstaying ones’ visa can be met with prison or hefty fines. Others simply found work after their studies but their workplace won’t sponsor their new visa, meaning they are undocumented.

-Those who are not good with paperwork and forget to renew their visas. In some countries, you have to renew your stay permit every year, three years, five years or ten years. If you don’t renew your stay permit you are technically an illegal alien. Some get comfortable in their jobs and forget to check in at the immigration office, not realizing that their stay permit expired. Such cases are rare, but common among older immigrants or immigrants who lack literacy and a network of literate people.

Can a country work without immigrants or deport all their illegal immigrants? From an economic and demographic perspective, immigration is often one way to balance the GDP, as in bringing immigrants from age groups where the demographics were low. For example the thing about World War II is that not many Europeans had children, but people in Africa and Asia had children nonetheless, and their subsistence economies proved more stable than the European economy. This meant immigrants filled the void during the 1950s reconstruction period. Germany in particular offered very pleasant work conditions to immigrants and signed various pacts with developing nations in the 1950s and 1960s, and the concept of gastarbeiter (guest worker) emerged. Japan and South Korea was so impressed by the easygoing yet high paying work conditions in Germany that both countries refer to low-skilled repetitive yet relatively high paid part-time jobs as arbeit, the German word for work.

Economically and strategically the benefits are huge. But culturally conflicts can sometimes emerge, leading some countries to have immigration quotas depending on the country of origin of workers. In the early 20th century in the United States for example, among other factors, the high levels of home sickness among East Asian immigrants meant the US put quotas restricting the entry of East Asian workers to the United States. That was before the US found a way to make rice and dumplings common. High birthrates, lack of knowledge of the local language from the parents, or sometimes absent families can make for adjustment difficulties or homesickness among immigrant populations, which can also cause considerable cultural differences and the emergence of cultures within cultures.

In most countries, immigrant populations tend statistically to intermarry  a lot more than they marry within the tribe, leading to some tribes intermarrying more frequently than others, as there are frequent intermarriages between the Catholic Polish, Irish, Italian and French communities, frequent intermarriages between German and British communities, frequent intermarriages within African Muslim communities both from North and sub-Saharan Africa, frequent intermarriages within East Asian communities, frequent intermarriages between Jews and people from their country of origin regardless of religion for example between a French Jew and a French Catholic in the United States and so on.   


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Emanuel Paparella2016-12-01 14:39:38
Interesting analysis. It would appear, empirically, that there are immigrants, and then there are immigrants and some are more equal and privileged than others. Some resemble our grandparents and their immigrant experience, and some are "neo-immigrants" romanticizing the experience or parading as the original immigrant at the turn of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, the question "what is the essence of emigration and immigration"(which is as old as the varied peregrinations and journeys of humankind), remains to be answered.

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