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What would a good immigration policy look like?

One reason immigration policy is more difficult than most other government affairs is that there are only wrong answers. While one can imagine the platonic form of an education, trade, or energy policy, the only way to have an immigration policy that doesn’t cause misery to those affected is to not have one.

Part of the problem is that almost every potential immigrant has sympathetic motives. Whether you want to move because you think you have a better chance of making more money elsewhere, have a happier future for your children, or are simply looking for a better quality of life, every denied immigration application is someone’s shattered dream .

The closest everyday analogy to a nation’s immigration system is a hiring process: you can’t guarantee you’ll find the right candidate, the process of turning people down is always painful, and barring the infinitesimal number who join with the intention of becoming their employer cheat, basically every applicant is a likeable person. And like a hiring process, if done poorly, it can lead to resentment from the existing workforce. Therefore, it must be carefully managed and prepared to avoid internal difficulties.

Like a hiring process, any immigration policy makes most people who come into contact with it miserable — no matter which end they are on. Anyone looking at my visa application to move to the US because I think I have a better chance of starting my own billion-dollar tech company has the ugly task of explaining to me that my chances for this in any country are always exactly zero.

Refugee policy is simpler. We can say with the utmost confidence that everyone in Ukraine has compelling reasons to want to leave Ukraine, so governments can streamline the process by allowing anyone with a valid passport to treat that document as a visa. And we know what refugees need to give themselves a better life in a new country: free and no-cost support for their mental and physical health easy access to the labor market and help with integration into a new country, mostly but not exclusively in the form of language classes and housing options.

Your country’s ability to do these things is a pretty good test of how effectively it’s governed. If your planning and housing system does not have enough flexibility and spare capacity to accommodate some refugees, you almost certainly have a sclerotic planning and housing system. If your community colleges can’t provide them with enough language skills – people who have already worked and lived perfectly happily in another country – to enter your job market, you almost certainly have a very poor adult education system. And if your political class doesn’t have the sense to grant visa-free access to your country to anyone with a valid Ukrainian passport, then you almost certainly have a weak political class.

If your country can’t any of these things, congratulations! They are almost certainly the UK and almost certainly heading for a second lost decade in a row.

While all border policies are unfortunate in their own way, not all are equally miserable or economically damaging. What might an immigration system that doesn’t necessarily want to be “good” but at least “not actively terrible” look like?

A good rule of thumb when you’re doing a lot of things badly is to just do less. A good place to start would be to reduce the workload of immigration officials, for example by relaxing family reunification rules when people already have jobs, rather than unnecessarily interfering in any relationship that develops across borders. The same goes for greater humility about what governments are good at.

As so-called points-based immigration systems like Australia and the UK show, governments cannot reliably predict the needs of the economy at such a detailed level. Each year, both countries have to adjust their list of “shortage occupations” to reflect the companies that could not meet their needs employment needs and therefore unable to grow as much as they otherwise would have done in the previous 12 months.

However, the UK Government is so committed to the idea that it knows the employment needs of companies better than the companies themselves that their immigration enforcement regime now extends potentially to every job, property transaction and life event of any kind in the UK. This creates the perverse situation where the UK state is more effective and better optimized at tracking down illegal immigrants who have succeeded in some way, be it buying a house or a new job, than in locating victims of Human trafficking.

Instead, why not just allow any established profitable business, research institution, or public body to make their own hiring decisions and issue visas themselves? Governments should trust that such organizations are better at figuring out who to hire and when than they are. Instead, they should focus on things governments are good at doing — such as enforcing legal wage floors and building social security systems — and addressing the treatment and integration of immigrants, rather than trying to guess what the “ right”. how many migrants should come to a country and what exact jobs they should have when they get there.

stephen.bush@ft.com

Camilla Cavendish is gone

https://www.ft.com/content/8e941a78-4d4f-4bdf-9e3a-2f290ab342ac What would a good immigration policy look like?

Adam Bradshaw

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