Immigration is The Hot Topic, but most Countries are getting it Wrong

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There has been a near-global sea change lately in politics, not just in the substance but the form as well. Anyone paying attention to both news and history should be aware of this gradual – lately a little more drastic – shift, both to the right and to the left of center, on a number of key issues. In recent years, the most hot-button and oft-discussed issue has been immigration, usually with a not-so-subtle bent towards class and ethnicity that many argue makes the discussion an extension of more archaic – even racist and xenophobic – attitudes towards people from other cultures and countries. Donald Trump’s famous “Muslim ban,” for instance, failed to target the world’s largest Muslim-majority countries, instead focusing entirely on countries in Africa and the Middle East.

A years-old refugee crisis spurred in large part by proxy and civil war in Syria was a flashpoint for international discussion about immigration, with most countries moving in a more conservative direction, Germany, for example, under Angela Merkel’s leadership, pledged to take in an enormous number of refugees and immigrants, but when many of those refugees failed to assimilate, in large part due to failures on the part of the government itself, many reactionary critics found valuable ammunition in their increasingly concerted fight against immigration.

Many countries are seeing similar changes in public outlook as well as official policy as elections bring more reactionary far-right candidates into office. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is infamous for using anti-immigrant rhetoric as a campaign platform, and recently was warmly received by none other than Donald Trump on a visit to the United States, who was quick to draw parallels between them and their respective policies on immigration. Much of today’s anti-immigrant sentiment comes from European or otherwise Western countries and there are concerns that these views can, more often than not, be driven by a virulent (though by no means new) trend of white nationalism that has seemed to grow in acceptance globally alongside the vitriol directed at immigrants – most of whom are from Latin America in the western hemisphere or Africa and the Middle East in the eastern hemisphere. There is a longstanding conspiracy theory rooted in these racist beliefs that argues that there is some kind of global conspiracy, whether originating from the highest echelons of elite society or as a kind of grassroots movement, whose aim is to “replace” caucasian or native European ethnicities via massive influx of immigrants from other countries with different backgrounds. This belief fuels an alarming amount of anti-immigrant settlement from developed countries worldwide.

It should be immediately obvious, but there are many issues with beliefs such as these, and more widely, with anti-immigrant sentiment and policies in general. The most immediate, and probably most relevant, is that immigration is generally a really good thing for the country that receives the immigrants. According to a number of studies, higher immigration can be positively correlated with higher income and lower poverty rates, among many other metrics used to determine quality of life and overall national development. The assumption or assertion that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are somehow poorer, less educated, or more prone to violent crime than the existing population is also wrong on its face and can be easily disproved by data. In the United States, for instance, around 47% of the largest category of legal immigrants had graduated from college, whereas only 29% of United States citizens had done so. Study after study has shown conclusively that increased immigration spurs economic growth and results in overall benefits for the host country, rather than the opposite.

Class and income inequality also pay a large role in society’s perception of immigrants as good or bad. Many countries will issue something called a residence visa in exchange for significant investment in real estate or business, usually with no limit or quota. It can even net the investor an official passport from the country. The world’s wealthiest now have the option to shop for passports as well as goods and services – the cheapest second passport to buy is from Thailand, for a mere $15,000, and in the United States, it can cost half a million dollars, ironically an investment that 95% of American citizens likely cannot afford.

Despite all of this, there is still one critical error in the right-leaning push to limit immigration in developed countries: native birth rates. One thing that almost all of these countries have in common, other than their unwillingness to open their doors to people from other countries, is that the birth rate of their citizens is declining, sometimes at alarming rates. Anti-immigration hardliners are worried that immigrants will turn their countries into ghettos, and racists are worried that their ethnicity will be ‘replaced,’ but if either of those things happens, the culprit will be fertility rates, not immigrants. Without immigrants, national GDP will fall, the economy will shrink, and everyone will be worse off. It leaves room to wonder why these countries are limiting immigration at all.

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