Faced with the claims of migratory waves of underprivileged people, it is generally believed that prosperous countries must establish migratory controls with the purpose of protecting their population”s labor advantages. We therefore take for granted that imposing restrictions on movements of people between countries is a natural and reasonable measure of self-protection.
The most radical version of this feeling of protection, as presented by right-wing groups in Europe and the United States, is known as xenophobia. The thesis of the well-known Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, for example, which states that immigration from Latin American countries adversely affects the protestant and Anglo-Saxon cultural base of the United States, has found an official response in the enormous wall being built along the Mexican border, with the purpose of reducing the flow of migrant workers. This policy of exclusion assumes that the population from less fortunate regions must be confined to their territories because they are less productive, and that receiving them puts the well-being of the receiving nation in danger.
An article in Ode magazine (“Let them in,” April 2007) proposes that protectionism responds more to political ideological concerns than to realistic criteria because it lacks empirical support. Recent studies indicate that productivity in more prosperous countries resides in its technological infrastructure, which makes workers more productive. Therefore, when workers from poor countries move to rich countries and use that infrastructure, their productivity increases dramatically, to their benefit and that of the host country.
Two Norwegian researchers from the University of Science and Technology of Trondheim, Jonathon Moses and Björn Letnes, have discovered that when a developed country liberalizes migratory laws, its prosperity indexes increase. Everyone wins: immigrants obtain a better income, the host country produces more, and the original territories receive part of the income generated by its emigrants.
Phillippe Legrain, the article”s author, says that although empirical evidence aims towards a rational policy for liberalizing migratory restrictions, three myths persist that make it difficult to adopt policies to that effect. The first is that there are never enough jobs and that opening labor markets to immigrants is detrimental to locals, especially to young people. Another myth assumes that immigrants compete with local workers for the same jobs. The truth, however, is that immigrants -because they lack education and technical skills- do not compete favorably in the labor market. They accept inferior wages and, in doing so, create new jobs.
In more developed countries, local workers tend to abandon low-paying jobs that demand more physical effort or are particularly dangerous. This emptiness is occupied systematically by immigrants who, by doing so, fulfill an important social duty, contribute to productivity and improve conditions of life. Puerto Rico”s case validates Legrain”s statement: there was no demand for domestic work here until the arrival of Dominican immigrants. Without them, those jobs would not exist.
The third common myth alleges that immigrants do not come seeking employment but rather to live off the social benefits provided by the State. In fact, this argument has been used in the United States against Puerto Rican immigrants. Evidence, however, does not validate that belief. First of all, current laws are not very generous in extending benefits to immigrants. Furthermore, emigrating is an expensive adventure. Why, then, would immigrants be satisfied with the meager benefits provided by the State when they can earn more by working?
The neo-liberal ideology sustained by the globalized economy favors the free flow of capital, goods, and services; it devalues territorial economic protectionism and lobbies for the elimination of restrictions imposed by national states. We should consider the viability of extending this policy to migration and adopting world-wide labor policies that facilitate the free flow of people between nations.
Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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