Why are there so many restrictions on human migration?
For most of human (pre-) history, the kind of state control of human movement that we currently have didn’t exist.
Admittedly, there are strong security and economic arguments for limiting migration. However, I can’t help thinking that behind these arguments often lurk chauvinistic, tribal sentiments: ‘us and them’.
I wonder what would happen if every country scrapped these kinds of controls. Maybe an initial period of chaos, followed by feedback leading to a self-balancing system: lots of people move to desirable country Xland, it becomes crowded and less desirable, people go elsewhere, the situation in Xland stabilises. In the next generation, immigration to Xland resumes, but on a more stable basis. The consequences of, and wisdom gained by, Xland’s experiences become part of humanity’s pool of collective knowledge. ?
Of course, if some countries abandoned their restrictions but many or most did not, there would be a lot less options available on a global level, which I suppose would make the system less stable, and more likely to go wrong. Although I may as well admit that I don’t really understand mathematics and statistics, so I could be wrong about that.
Why does any of this matter?
For one, these issues cut to the heart of human community feeling, of ‘us and them’. These issues relate to what may be deep-seated instincts from humanity’s wild and savage past. We can’t achieve a global human community, where everyone is ‘us’, unless we deal with these issues successfully and appropriately. Maybe a country’s immigration policies have something to say about it’s culture in general.
One might also ask whether, at their current level of development, human societies need an ‘other’, and, if so, whether they can satisfy this need through less harmful channels, such as sport.
Another big reason why these things matter is environmental-statistics-lifestyle-related. We are heading into a century where the climate is likely to be an increasing problem, whilst at the same time, the human population is set to grow significantly, and individual consumption of resources also likely to rise, at least for the time being.
If we can go into this situation with migration issues already dealt with, it would be a big help. If crops start failing in one part of the world, it is obviously going to help if people from that part of the world can move elsewhere, with the minimum of fuss and bother, before things get so bad. Also, if migration is much more free and easy, it may help to stimulate investment in failing countries by promoting communities abroad, from that country, who send valuable income back home, and who, crucially, would feel happy to move back home when circumstances allow. As opposed to the situation in the UK in the later decades of the twentieth century, where migrants who were let in were often afraid to leave, in case they wouldn’t be allowed back in a second time.
One final point: not all migrants are the same, and not all migrations are the same. If we lump them all together as one, we may be blinding ourselves to some of the points of the discussion. For example, allowing in a short-term migrant who will earn some money and then leave is a different thing to allowing in a migrant who becomes a citizen of that new country, and who brings their family to join them. Perhaps because migration touches on such deep-seated feelings, it can become easy to get carried away, and to say or do things that we later regret. Which is a pity, because what we are looking at here are issues relating to human progress.