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Eureka: A fireside chat on immigration
by Joseph Gatt
2018-04-21 08:45:17
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If you're thinking about an immigrant you probably have a dark-skinned man in ragged clothes idling around near some refugee camp. The story you will have in mind is probably one according to which he came by boat and was rescued at the coast by the coast guards, probably Greek or Italian, and that he's applied for asylum for being persecuted. The opinion you have of immigration is either one of sending those immigrants I described in this paragraph back to their home countries, or perhaps welcoming them and giving them assistance.

Why do immigrants come in the first place? And what happens once you let them in? Do they learn the language, get a job, marry, send their kids to school? What are the long-term implications of immigration? In this fireside chat, I will describe legal immigration and illegal immigration, the perception of migrants among local, mainly European populations. I will then discuss illegal immigration, why immigrants choose Europe of all places when most of them are not in Europe, why they tend to have so many children, how to assimilate migrants and their children, how their identities are perceived, how migrants go through life in their adopted country, immigration in the age of economic crisis, and finally immigration and globalization. 

Legal immigration and illegal immigration

The countries with the most migrants are statistically Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Some African countries also have a large inflow of migrants and refugees. The main problem is, those countries have confusing asylum procedures, being a refugee is kind of a gray zone where you can work and live like a normal citizen but you are legally not allowed to work or live as a normal citizen. Nor is there a procedure that you can go through to apply for asylum or to work and live legally in those countries. I'll say more on this when I discuss why refugees choose Europe.

The thing about legal immigration is that you can study in a foreign country. You can work in a foreign country. You can start a business in a foreign country. Different countries have different conditions to allow immigrants in. Canada and Australia have their famous point systems which allow you to live permanently in those countries. 12,000 dollars in your bank account, work experience, speaking English and French and you're ready to go. Other countries have less obvious paths to permanent residency, and while you can work, study or own a business in those countries, your days are often counted and you don't always have access to everything the market has to offer. Of course one fail-safe way to become a permanent citizen in any country is to marry a citizen of that country, then you are allowed to take whatever liberties marriage allows you to live in that country.

Here's how I categorize legal and illegal migrants.

  1. You're broke and don't have skills or an education. You either travel to the country illegally by boat or by car, burn your passport, and hope to find a local kind enough to marry you. If not, you apply for asylum.
  2. You're broke but you have skills or an education. You apply for scholarships to universities, and try to date one of the students and hope he or she will marry you. Or you apply for a job in the local country.
  3. You have money but no skills or education. You invest in a restaurant in your host country, and bring your spouse and family from back home.
  4. You have money and skills and an education. You either apply for a job in the host country, apply for a skilled worker visa or start a business in your host country and invite your husband, wife or family over.

imm1_400Now when legislating on immigration, you need to take into account that some are broke and without an education, others are rich and highly educated. But when it comes to immigration law, as I'll discuss later, it's essentially one size fits all, despite the sociologic differences between the different groups that immigrate to a different country.

The perception of migrants

In a lot of countries, migrants are essentially perceived as broke and without skills or education, even when they have money and skills and an education. But because I'm discussing immigration more broadly to include all immigration from all countries, let me describe what a stereotypical immigrant looks like.

  1. Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand: they have money, are highly educated and are rich. The truth is some of them are and some of them are not.
  2. Eastern Europeans: They are broke but skilled and highly educated. Some of them are, some of them are not.
  3. Africa and the Middle East: they are broke, have no skills or education. Some of them have money, others are educated and have skills.
  4. Latin America and South Asia. They are broke and moderately skilled and educated. Some of them are, others are not.
  5. East Asia: they are rich and highly skilled and educated. Some of them are, others have degrees and are rich on paper but not really, others are not.

These perceptions affect decision-making negatively with one-size-fits-all procedures that could be altered. I'll discuss how in the next section.

Immigration procedure – one size fits all

A lot of times immigration procedure does not take into account skills, economic background and other factors such as if families are involved or if the person is in a romantic relationship with a local. Immigration procedures often don't take into account language skills, other useful skills, knowledge of the local culture, ability to adapt, ability to survive and thrive. Most immigration systems are based on sponsorship or investment procedures. That is, regardless of how independently you can live in the local country, the procedure won't take that into account.

So here I'd like to point out several factors that need to be taken into account in any immigration policy.

  1. Knowledge of the local language. I've been to countries where I did not speak the language, and hey, I'm the guy who speaks 9. When you're surrounded with people you can't communicate with, demons start appearing in your head.
  2. Knowledge, understanding and acceptance of the local culture. Culture includes everything from food to the entertainment industry to behaving like a local to knowledge of the history, beliefs and values of the local who live in the country. If you can't accept those, demons start appearing in your head.
  3. Education and skills. I did't put money in number 3 because your skills and education say as much about your ability to make money and your current financial situation does. Degrees are not the whole thing, ability to deliver tasks, soft skills, computer and engineering skills, medical and legal skills, language skills all count. That way the migrant won't be stuck with options ranging from opening restaurants to dry cleaners to being an au pair to driving a taxi.
  4. Economic background. Having money can guanratee your success in a foreign country. But that's not the whole story. If you don't have numbers 1,2 and 3 you can also lose it all in the host country.
  5. Social relations in the foreign country. If you have a lot of friends or are romantically involved with a local in your host country, that should make your stay easier. But immigration should not force you to get married to be able to stay in the country. Maybe you belong to a church that has a presence in the local country, maybe you belong to a club, maybe you have affiliations with associations. I put this in the last category because a lot of migrants fake these up to get ahead in their immigrant application status.

What do you do with those who don't fit into these categories? In the next section I will discuss illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigration

Here's how the story goes. Illegal immigrants either go to a country through legal means, either by getting a tourist visa or by getting a visa to attend a congress or a seminar. Or they come to the country through illegal means, as in hiding in a truck or on a boat to enter the country. They borrow a lot of money to leave their country and leave their family's lives as a collateral. They borrow more money than they could ever make in a lifetime in their country, something like 15 or 20 thousand dollars in some cases. As illegal immigrants they burn their passports, that way the host country can'r send them back because they don't know where they're from. They then find odd jobs and send money back home to the loan sharks they borrowed from. In some cases they can't find jobs in the host country, the loan sharks kill their family, and they would get killed if they went back to their country.

Since we don't know where they're from, we can't send them back to their country. Israel tried this solution: go back to your country on your own will or face prison time. Surprisingly, a lot of the illegal immigrants, probably most of them, chose prison time and very few chose back a free trip and some extra cash back to their own country. So what do you do? Do you put them all in prison? Do you force them to admit what country they're from so you can send them back? A lot of times they will say that they're political refugees or that they're gay or Christian or that they are persucuted, but it's really the loan sharks who are persecuting them.

The question is how do you prevent more of them from coming? Do you force boats to go the other way? Do you prevent them from getting tourist visas or congress visas? This is a very complicated question, and I'm afraid I'd need a paycheck to answer this one.

Why immigrants choose Europe

Here are a few reasons immigrants choose Europe of all places.

  1. Salaries are higher. A lot of times they borrow money and can only pay back that kind of money by working in Europe. Their loan sharks often lend them about 20 sometimes 30 thousand dollars, the kind of money you couldn't make in Lebanon, Turkey, Iran or Pakistan.
  2. The procedure for asylum is clearer and a little naive. In Lebanon, Iran or Pakistan there is no clear procedure for asylum and refugees are left in tents and fed by NGOs never to leave those tents. In Europe, if you argue a good case, you can get permanent residency.
  3. Europe is not famous for persecuting refugees. In Iran or Pakistan, even if you manage to get permanent residency, you will always be considered an Afghan, a Tajik or a Pakistani and will be treated as such. Not in Europe.
  4. NGOs do a better job in Europe. NGOs actually help refugees survive and try to give them a chance with legal council.
  5. You have better chances to thrive in Europe. There are stories of refugees who became members of parliament or tycoons. Those stories don't exist elsewhere.
  6. The welfare system. You can make money without lifting a finger, which is a sweet deal for many.  

The real story behind refugees

For the reasons I stated above, refugees often claim that they are persecuted in their home country for political or social reasons. While these stories may be true for a minority of refugees, even when they are true, they tend to be exaggerated. Their countries are indeed hit by war, terrorism, ethnic violence, corrpution, but mainly huge unemployment rate, and extorition for those who actually make money.

A lot of the refugees flee because they spend their childhood and adolescence at home, and their early adult years looking for something to do when there is nothing for them to do. Food is low in calory intake, jobs, if they exist, are very unstable, there is always a risk at dealing with armed groups and soon enough, they meet a loan shark who gives them the loan and takes his family's life as a collateral. So when they say their whole family was killed back home, it was probably their fault. Plus not all refugees are Syrian or Afghan. A lot of them come from countries that have not experienced war in a long time. 

Why do immigrants tend to have so many children?

There are essentially two reasons why immigrants have so many children. First, the tendency in their home country is to have many children. Second, given the economic opportunities and lifestyle, which can not be compared to their home country, they believe in a bright future for their children. Often they are unaware that competition exists, that unemployment levels are high, of the discrimination against the children of immigrants and of the lack of economic opportunities their children could face.

Assimilation – guests, roomates or children?

For the rest of the article I will discuss those success stories, those who did manage to get permanent residency or even citizenship in their country of adoption. Now for assimilation you need to understand that immigrants grew up with different values, some of them coded values others not coded, and that they tend to maintain those values once they immigrate. In some cases, they even rediscover those values once they assimilate, and adopt those values to different degrees.

The thing is how do you deal with people who visibly have different values from the mainstream. Do you treat them like guest, as in you marvel at their different values but always keep them at a distance. Do you treat them as roomates, as in ignore their values but make sure they pay the bills and the taxes. Or do you treat them like children, or force them to adopt your values.

I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each integration model.

-Treating them like guests. The advantage is that their home culture will be marveled at and celebrated. They will feel that their different culture is being valued, and they will feel valued. The disadvantage is that they will not be able to make close friends among locals, and even when they do, they will constantly be reminded that they are different. This will encourage them to hang out with people from their own culture, which can lead to cultures within your own culture. The problem is their children will have trouble adapting, because to them, the culture of their parents is somewhat alien, while the locals won't let them adopt the local culture.

-Treating them like roomates. The advantage is they have the same rights as everyone else. They are not placed in a special category. The same rules apply to them as anyone else. The disadvantage is they don't always know what the rules are, and unlike the guest, they can't use the “I”m a foreigner” excuse.

-Treating them like children and forcing them to assimilate. The advantage is you will put them under pressure to learn about the local culture. The disadvantage is when do they become adults? At what point do they graduate and do you say “you have learned enough!”

Identity: something to celebrate, tolerate, repress or not give a damn about? 

When you have immigrants, inevitably they will bring a new culture with them, new ways of thinking, new music, new entertainment, new food, new ideas, new fashion. The question is do you celebrate that, do you tolerate that, do you repress that, or do you not give a damn about that?

Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages for each. If you celebrate their culture, they might feel valued and they will feel that their culture is valued. The disadvantage is they might break away from mainstream culture and start asking for laws to be voted for their own sake and benefit. They'll start asking for boys and girls to be separated, or for schools to close on Friday, or for their holidays to become national holidays.

If you tolerate their culture, the advantage is that they won't start asking for rights to celebrate their culture. The disadvantage is they will feel alienated, and their children might feel alienated, as in dietary restrictions for example.

Do you repress? If you repress the advantage is the immigrants will assimilate and you won't be able to tell them apart culturally. The disadvantage is while you can repress food and fashion, you can't repress their genetic composition, so they might have other more emotional ways of expressing their culture. In some cases there might even be movements from them to live autonomously or secede.

Do you not give a damn? Not paying attention means they don't feel valued. They don't feel tolerated either, nor do they feel repressed. They just do their thing and no one looks at them. The disadvantage is they might get furstrated at not being able to discuss their culture with the locals.

Now that you have your residence permit, what's next?

There are five barriers that you will encouter once you get your residency permit. Those are the linguistic barrier, the cultural barrier, the educational barrier, the economic barrier and the social barrier.

-Linguistic barrier. Learning a language is hard, and a lot of the locals won't be helpful when it comes to helping you learn the language. You have countries like Turkey or Israel where everyone talks with everyone, but then you have countries like France or Japan where talking with strangers is just not something people do, making the language learning experience painful, especially if you lack time or money to take language classes.

-Cultural barrier. I'm lucky enough to have the time to read books about culture and do have training in anthropology. But the average guy probably won't be able to assimilate to the local culture, and might find a lot of things strange. In some cases, the local culture will downright contradict his or her culture.

-The educational barrier. A lot of countries require formal training even for jobs that are menial at best. A lot of degrees from foreign countries are not recognized, and if you want to go back to your initial training, you will have to study all over again. Easier said than done when you have a family to feed, not to mention the blow on the ego not to be able to engage in professions you were trained for.

-The economic barrier. Some single men like to collect their welfare check and stay home and play games. But if you have a family to feed, bills can be hard to pay.

-The social barrier. Making f riends in the host country is not always easy, especially if you're set in your own ways. Plus ever since that smoking ban in pubs, there are few places you can go to and have light conversation.

Immigration in the age of economic crisis

Before the recession, a lot of immigrants could borrow money from loan sharks, go through a naive asylum procedure, get a job and send money back to the loan sharks. There are other horror stories, such as those of loan sharks who continue to require payments even when the loan has technically been paid off.

But today, with more complicated asylum procedures, more immigrants and fewer jobs, a lot of asylum seeking immigrants are really playing Russian roulette.

Conclusion: a global job market?

If anything, today most jobs clearly state that you have to be a legal resident to work for the company. If anything fewer companies are hiring talent from abroad and fewer companies are keeping that talent. Long gone are the days when skilled Soviet engineers made North American employers smile because they were incredibly qualified and disciplined yet demanded low wages. Those days are gone.

One reason is today's talent needs to constantly adapt to new technologies and changing working tools and skills. That pool of talent is hard enough to find anywhere, and employees are often not looking for them abroad. Bureaucracy has also made it more difficult to hire such talent. Some questions remain to be explored. What do you do with talent that is overly skilled yet seems to lack the kind of funds to go abroad? What do you do with those who have neither skills nor money yet want to immigrate to a market saturated with low-skilled labor. How do you test language skills? How do you make sure immigrants have the proper skills. I'll save those and more questions for another fireside chat.

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