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Debate: Relaxation of immigration laws

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Should governments in rich countries relax immigration laws?

Background and context

This is a debate primarily centred on developed countries into which many (often poor) people wish to immigrate. At the moment the countries are only obliged to accept migrants who the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) rule have a genuine ‘fear of persecution’ in their own country. Most rich countries tend to only accept immigrants who can provide either specific skills or substantial investment. In fact red tape reduces even the number of those who enter. Proposition tends to focus on both the moral case for improving people’s lives and an advantage to the recipient country. Opposition can use either mainly right wing arguments about the dangers for the recipient or take a more liberal line centred on the exploitation of the immigrants. Policy can be aimed either at individual governments or at the UN.

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Economic Development vs. Brain Drain

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Yes

People are being kept in unbearable poverty by immigration laws that bar them from pursuing work in the countries where it is available. Their situation is often worse than that of people who are classed as genuine refugees. By allowing them to work in rich countries we improve not only their situation but via remittances that of their family and home country. Think of the economies of the Philippines and the West Indies.

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No

We should attempt to improve the situation in poor countries rather than just allowing anyone with the drive to leave. This proposal will cause a brain drain of talent from the countries that most need it in order to build up their own economies condemning them to permanent underdevelopment. It will take away working age people from countries who already lack them because of AIDS and high birth rates. Further, it will distract from our real aim which must be to build up the economies of poor countries through training and investment.

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Argument #2

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Yes

People are already entering Britain for work illegally in enormous (but obviously unknown) numbers. This brings with it dangers that can be stopped by legalisation. Illegal immigrants are exploited by employers who don’t follow regulations on pay or conditions. They pay no tax. They often become involved in prostitution or crime because they are marginalised. The smuggling of immigrants into rich countries allows them to be exploited by the gangs who do it and there have been a number of casualties in the process. Regulation is vital and only legalisation allows it.

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No

Far more people will be exploited if we allow total immigration. The desperately poor often invest all their money in a one way ticket and are therefore trapped with no means of bargaining. Their willingness to accept below minimum wage will undercut the whole system and impoverish Western workers. Foreign workers are often unaware of their rights and the regulations about their work whether they are legal or illegal immigrants. These are the grounds on which the Trades Unions movement explicitly opposes this case.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Rich countries are in a demographic crisis with an ever decreasing working population to support pensioners. The EU needs 14million new people of working age each year to maintain the worker/pensioner balance. Even Germany has had to reduce its generous pension system. Developing countries are in the opposite situation and almost all immigrants are of working age and they will ease this demographic strain.


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No

Rich countries may be dealing with a burden of supporting more old people but raising the population is not the answer. more developed countries are already under huge environmental pressure because of their large populations and we cannot suddenly have a huge increase in the already pressured housing pool and road system without huge damage. Further, the welfare system that supports the elderly is one of the great attractions for immigrants who will certainly not all be young and may well not choose to be workers. How can you prove that ‘welfare scrounging’ won’t make the situation worse.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Rich countries that have boomed in the 90’s are short of both skilled and unskilled workers who are kept out by stringent immigration law. In London there are unfilled places for skilled workers in 70% of companies and finding people willing to perform basic manual jobs is increasingly difficult. Merrill-Lynch’s attempt to recruit Russian workers was stymied by red tape in Britain. No economy can grow when there are no workers to keep up with demand. Immigration makes the whole economy bigger and everyone richer in the long term.

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No

Importing labour is an ineffective way to stop the problems. There is still unemployment in all rich countries and retraining and education are the way to improve the supply of skilled labour. Why should companies sponsor students if they can import their labour cheaper? As well as brain draining poor countries the proposal will allow governments to ignore the marginalised in their own country. Labour shortage is temporary and a bust may well cause all those immigrants to return to their own countries of origin which have not grown economically because of the absence of workers and are now structurally dependent on remittances.

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Argument #5

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Yes

This is good for the global economy because it brings workers to where infrastructure and knowledge are. It also allows rich countries to compete better and stops companies moving abroad to lower pay and regulation countries. Lots of the biggest multinationals have specifically lobbied for a free market in labour so that they can reap the efficiency benefits. They after all pay little attention to national borders.

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No

What is good for poor countries and the global economy is sound trading practice and investment in Less Developed Countries. This is explicitly to be reduced if poor workers are to come to the Western world. The reason that multinational companies are engaged in a lobby for a free market in labour is because they are engaged in a ‘race to the bottom’ in search of the cheapest labour.

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Argument #6

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Yes

Immigrants are generally seen to be extremely keen to work and work hard in their new country. The drive to emigrate is a drive from a wish to do well and tends to translate itself into achievement. Also emigrants rarely come from countries with a welfare culture so there is little use of welfare unless we make it structurally impossible for them to work. The achievement of Jews in Britain and America following the Second World War and the social mobility of the Chinese in the USA stand as proof of this.

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No

The examples in no way relate to the contemporary flow of uneducated immigrants. If we look at the situation today we can see that a huge percentage of immigrants don’t work and in many cases this pattern persists for more than one generation.

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