Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Best Immigration Policy

One of the issues closest to my heart is immigration. Partly because i am one (moved my family from the UK to Australia last year) and partly because so few countries have been able to get a grip on how to manage immigration, and have such little idea of what they then expect from their immigrants.

Let me start by saying that i am pro-immigration. As i am in favour of the free movement of capital and goods (free trade) then it would be somewhat illogical of me to favour restricting the flow of labour. As an aside, it always amuses me that so many anti-free traders are so passionately pro-immigration. I mean, you're either in favour of free markets or you're a protectionist, right? You can't have it both ways.

That said, i am well aware that i have no God-given right to live in Australia. It is a privilege to be here, not a right. I may not like some of their laws, but that does not give me the right to break them just because 'we don't do things like that back in my country'. I can campaign to change the unfair laws, for sure, but not to break them.

Anyway, i have searched fruitlessly for a political party that has penned an effective and just immigration policy. Until now, that is.

The recently formed Liberal Democratic Party of Australia, a libertarian-leaning bunch, have formulated one of the most efficient, compassionate, and fair immigration policies that i have come across. It should be studied by all countries facing high immigration rates.

i) It starts from the premise that the free movement of people between countries contributes to economic prosperity as people will seek to relocate to take advantage of higher wages, better opportunities and a higher standard of living.

Constraints on the free migration of people for economic reasons tend to perpetuate lower living standards in the areas or countries of origin while increasing the cost of living in the intended destination. Such constraints are also a profound form of coercion. Consequently, anything that restricts immigration must be compelling if it is to have moral validity.

ii) However they do not favour unrestricted immigration due to the threats to democracy and freedom that large flows of people can cause in the short term.

iii) They accept that there are cons as well as pros associated with immigration.

Immigrants have given us cultural richness, new entrepreneurs and hard-working employees. However, some have also brought crime, a drain on public services, reluctance to integrate and contempt for the country's existing values.

iv) The LDP also accepts that there are two forms of immigration. Economic migrants that generally benefit the host nation and humanitarian migrants (refugees) where the benefits to the arrivals are enormous but more mixed to the host nation.

i) They propose to set annual immigration targets with the objective of promoting short and medium term economic growth in the region of 1-1.5% of the existing population (roughly equivalent to the current level of 200,000 per year)

ii) All prospective immigrants to be screened for health and security.

iii) Once screened, all immigrants to pay an 'entry fee' to be set by an annual auction mechanism with state-sponsored discounts available to those in work deemed in short supply in Australia e.g. nurses.

iv) Once admitted, immigrants will become permananet residents, whose rights differ from citizens.

v) Residency may be cancelled for conviction of a significant crime, incitement to commit a crime, the use of violence against spouses or children and engaging in or preparing for activities consistent with terrorism.

vi) Residents will not have access to the welfare system. Thus permanent residents who are unable or unwilling to find employment and not able to sustain themselves in another manner (eg through family support or private welfare) will have an incentive to return to their country of origin

vii) Residents will be able to apply for citizenship after five years subject to satisfactory completion of a Citizenship Test in English. The citizenship test is intended to ensure that a person is eligible to be accepted as a full member of society by sharing the country's most basic values of liberty, democracy and the rule of law. It is not intended to promote conformism or to influence values and beliefs outside those upon which Australia's freedom and democracy are based.

viii) Refugees have no inherent right to asylum. It is a privilege granted by Australians. However, it is important that Australia provide a sanctuary for people who are fleeing political oppression and persecution, both on compassionate grounds and to demonstrate to the rest of the world the attractions of a free and democratic society. Such people can also become fierce advocates of freedom in Australia, having experienced its loss, and thus make a valuable contribution to its preservation.

Lots of food for thought. But by far and away the best policy i have come across.