A borderless world

Since at least 1970s, we all became used to seamless and instantaneous access to financial resources worldwide.

Over the last few decades, this extended also to the assembly line and the supply chain.

The missing link is still the people.

We are burdened by increasingly Byzantine rules on movement and resettlement, whose complexity is creating an industry in its own.

In this article, some simple considerations from observing rules and regulations around, trying to balance common sense and security.

But this article starts with a…

Disclaimer

Just like on a DVD that contains interviews or commentary from the director.

The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are my own position, already discussed before, while, and after working on immigration issues in Italy (see here).

Therefore, the content of this article is country-neutral.

Finally, this article is probably just an outline of a contentious issue.

Therefore, before talking about specifics, I would like to start with the context of immigration: states and borders.

Each section will end with an open-ended question, after presenting some ideas.

First: what is a border

The answer depends on at least three elements: who is asking, who is answering, and where they are.

You just need to visit few websites (UNHCR, OIM, etc) to see the complexities involved in identifying where people are entitled to live.

Borders are, in essence, a form of control- it made sense long ago, when any trade required a physical travel, but it is not the Internet the real source of globalization.

The telegraph already allowed in the XIX the globalization of finance and trade with fewer restrictions than today, as at the time controlling trade required human intervention.

If you lived in UK, you probably saw in newspapers the first pictures of inspections on containers done with X-rays, showing people sitting or standing inside containers, behind a fake shipment.

Search for statistics on the percentage of containers that are actually inspected- and you will be amazed.

The reason is simple: until when each item in each container will be traceable (e.g. RFID), subjecting international (physical) trade to the same level of scrutiny airline passengers are subjected to everyday would simply halt trade.

Therefore, we have already a “sampling” inspection system in place.

Based on two assumptions: trust and a shared need.

Don’t take my word- search online for a (public) research on security and terrorism from the shipping and insurance industries.

Trust implies building between the parties involved an understanding.

Based on some form of mutual agreement on the reason of a transaction and its expected outcomes, it is in their own interest to produce a desirable result, instead of trying to take advantage of your counterpart.

The shared need is the basis of the trust-building effort.

And, as in most issues, the intermediaries are those more interested in damaging the trust-based relationship, to defend their own role.

Question: who does really benefit from our current border management?

Second: consider migrations endemic

Thanks to technology, legal airline flights are sensibly cheaper than the illegal travels that immigrants reaching the shores of Europe have to finance.

And I was told so in Izmir in 2001, well before I even thought of working immigration.

There will always be migration due to wars and famine, until both are eradicated.

But economic migration is not necessarily a permanent relocation.

I met many immigrants in my travels across Europe who hold sometimes two jobs, just to save enough to, say, buy land and an house in their home country, or afford to build a better live for their children.

In their own land.

If you work on the subject, you are certainly now complaining that I am mixing migration with immigration, i.e. a transient activity with a potentially permanent one.

Well, just sample the laws and statutes of few European countries- and you will see that only somebody with a sensible pile of cash can afford the legal counsel to navigate through the maze of laws, regulations, exceptions- and spot the difference.

The paradox being: those who can afford to play the system with their own resources are not necessarily those that you want to stay.

Let’s just assume that there will always be people moving to a location where they can get a better pay or a better life, sometimes to stay, sometimes to then return home.

Question: who benefits from an inflexible quota system?

Third: migration and citizenship

As discussed above, and also in the article on “geolocalization” (search in this blog), financial resources and goods are de-facto “perpetual travellers” and without a real passport.

People are still constrained by a document entitling them to leave their own country, to travel to another country that recognizes their passport.

Now, imagine that you want to do an international wire-transfer, from country A to country B.

You just need a financial entity authorized to operate in both countries (or two entities, one in each country) and a pre-existing arrangement to authorize transfers.

You give the money and the information about the recipient, and the operator applies a fee to deliver a service.

I am ignoring now the back-to-back and other forms or “informal” transfers, of course.

But try now to pick up the rules concerning immigration from a country- any country.

And apply those rules to your wire-transfer.

If you transfer your money from A to B, what is the “citizenship” of that money? Is the money required to return at the starting point after a certain time?

No- it becomes simply an entry to be balanced at a later stage (money sent less money received).

Question: does it really matter the citizenship of the migrant, or should instead be the profile (vetted by a trusted intermediary) the steering mechanism of migration flow controls?

Fourth: no taxation without representation

There was a time when I travelled extensively across what used to be called Western Europe.

I ended up having an accent in any language (Canadian in French, a mix with Spanish and Italian in English, and a strange accent in Italian, and so on).

So, I often talked in pubs and bars with foreigners, foreign bartenders, and assorted non-locals.

What is really puzzling is how many immigrants, once they get regular job, are upset about the taxes they pay, but almost happy to have a legal payslip- often, complaining less about taxes than the locals.

And having low salaries, most working immigrants pay for the welfare system without using it, as they cannot afford to get a pay cut due to benefits.

But they have no proportional representation.

Question: shouldn’t immigrants (temporary or otherwise) have a saying not just in local elections, but also in the election of the representative bodies that decide on taxation and welfare issues?

Fifth: national and human rights

Thi s is an issue on which I managed to make enemies both on my political side (the left/progressive) and the other side (the right/conservative), since I was a teenager (some 30 years ago).

Because I advocate a kind of “reverse subsidiarity”: first, the law of the country or location you are living in, then your own customs.

Therefore, I see just normal that, in a community where the majority is composed of immigrants who share a common religious belief, once the local laws are satisfied, they can express their own religious beliefs as they see fit.

But, again, I think that it should be by democratic vote- and not just few imposing their will on the many.

And long ago I assumed this to apply also to in my own Roman Catholic environment, to those who imposed the display of religious symbols in government-owned buildings.

I think that the human rights extend to equal and fair treatment by representatives of the institutions, as I saw personally, and heard often, stories of less-then-EU-level human rights applied to immigrants.

Question: what is done to help newly arrived potential citizens to learn about the local customs and their rights and obligations? Shouldn’t a training/coaching delivered, instead of just assuming that they know what locals spent all their life learning and getting (sometimes) used to?

Sixth: freedom of movement

And this is probably one of the most troubling issues, in our security-conscious (or obsessed) times.

I can move my money around the globe. I can ship freely (with few exceptions) my physical possessions, but I need a visa to visit countries whose citizens are required to have a visa to visit the Schengen Area.

Yes, it is a matter of security. But it is also a matter of habit, as we have already all the tools and means to know so much about people, that a “stamp” on a passport is just a bureaucratic relic.

Again- geolocalization could be part of the solution.

Probably this sounds unusual: but if we were able to dispose of passports and visa requirements, I would be happy to have a “digital wallet” of information temporarily accessible to the government of the country I am planning to visit.

From when I reserve my travel ticket (with an electronic confirmation from some kind of system that does not involve noisy civil servants snooping in private data), to when I leave the country.

If this looks almost familiar: it is a variant of the “Patriot Act” requirements, but with an “automated authorization” and “temporary access clause”- both missing, and both needed, considering the recent events where the manual inspection of data let people through who were already on a watchlist.

Question: what if, at least where possible, we were to replace passports with a kind of UN travel agency/database/form online that automatically matches your travel request with the access to restricted travel lists and the requirements (e.g. financing required for the specific length of stay) of the visited country, after accessing other sources of information?

An example/proposal: changing the economic migrants’ relationship with European Union

As a provocation, few years ago I said: what if we were to focus on improving control while reducing the misery and illegal trading involved in what amounts to human trafficking, a.k.a. illegal immigration?

It could start as an experiment, on a limited scale.

As I hold a passport from a member of the Schengen Area, here is my modest provocation, limited to Europe (I already described this few years ago, offline)

Identify what is the cost charged by the illegal traffickers, and set a target of doing that for less than 50%, all inclusive, using legal transportation, and including the costs of monitoring while staying in the country, with financing from the job that the immigrant will obtain (or savings from the current system).

My concept of “monitoring” is not the RFID or other invasive tracking devices advocated by some paranoid and techno obsessed, but a much simpler mobile phone, with a SIM card, given to the applicants along with permission to travel.

A trust-based monitoring, balanced by maybe asking each applicant to “pair” with another person who would get through once (s)he returns home: you could foul the authorities of an unknown country, but another member of your own community?

If you want- job agencies attached to a Schengen Area consulate, plus a communication campaign (the ITU announced recently that Lesotho was the last country connected to the Internet) to inform the population of the locations the migrants are coming from (check your statistics!) about the new “right”.

We Europeans constantly lecture the others about human rights, often oblivious about our not-so-distant-past, and ignoring the signs that we are helping to build an “us” vs “them” mentality.

Benefits?

Maybe saving few thousands lives, shrinking the “customer base” for some criminal activities, helping to clean the job market in our own countries, as returning migrants will be able to explain to others how it works, converting them into goodwill ambassadors.

For when they will stop exporting people, and start trading with us.

Incidentally- and saving few million Euros.

Risks?

Details, details, details- to be discussed maybe in later articles.

And endless negotiations.

But worth the effort to build a different way of managing the relationship with developing countries.

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