The Ethics of Immigration


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Footnote 9 The answer to this objection is that we still need to place economic migration within the larger ethical framework under which wealthy democracies have global justice duties towards poorer migrant sending countries and justification duties towards would-be migrants whom they reject. These two normative requirements are sufficient to support an ethical duty to set up mutually beneficial economic migration programmes.

Second, as I have suggested above, destination countries ought to have an economic immigration programme under which certain numbers of migrants can apply for admission. Individual migrants do not necessarily have a personal claim to admission. The reason is that the collective benefits for the receiving and sending country will naturally depend on the numbers and qualifications of people seeking work in the former and diminishing the workforce of the latter.

Third, the triple win rationale applies to first admissions, but not to subsequent decisions about permanent residence or access to citizenship. Having lived and worked in a host state for some years, economic migrants strike roots and acquire individual claims to stay. Moreover, as argued by Walzer , pp.

Fourth, states are primarily responsible for the opportunities and welfare of their own citizens and residents. Footnote 10 Furthermore, economic immigration programmes are asymmetrically dominated by destination states, not only because these tend to be more powerful, but also because they must be able to select those whom they are ready to admit to their territory and labour markets.

These normative and realist reasons make it more difficult to prevent that migrants are losing out by being exploited and that countries of origin are damaged through brain drain. The triple win criterion suggests thus that economic migration programmes should not be exclusively run by destination states. They require an additional layer of global migration governance, i. Footnote 12 The goal must instead be to design economic migration programmes in such a way that the return flow of remittances and qualifications contributes to the economic development of the sending country.

This is a very incomplete list of ethical guidelines for economic migration policies, but it has quite radical implications for Europe. It seems clear that there is a large potential for economically and demographically beneficial immigration from Africa to Europe that could generate a triple win if it were well designed. The current reality is, however, that family reunification and refugee admission are pretty much the only available legal channels for immigration into the EU from Africa, while there is substantial regular economic immigration from other parts of the world that gets little attention.

Economic migrants are pushed into the arms of human traffickers, destination countries receive irregular migrants who clog their asylum system and remain blocked from regular labour markets. And countries of origin do not reap many of the benefits in remittances and transnational links to Europe that regular economic migration could yield for them.

The ethics of refugee admission is very different from that applying to economic migrants. In order to understand what the claims of refugees are, we do not need to stick to the narrow definition provided by the Geneva Refugee Convention that can only be understood in its historical context. Among political theorists there is a broad consensus that international refugees are persons whose states of citizenship fail to protect their fundamental human rights and for whom asylum granted by other states is the only way of restoring protection in the short run Carens, ; Gibney, ; Owen, The more controversial question is what duties states have towards refugees.

If states have contributed to a refugee crisis through supporting an authoritarian regime or selling arms to militias fighting a civil war, they have a remedial responsibility to take in refugees fleeing from such countries. The US did take in a significant share of Indochinese boat people after the end of the Vietnam war, but failed to do so for refugees from Iraq. The second type of special duty emerges from social connections to potential destination states that refugees have already before departure. Just like other migrants, refugees have claims to family reunification with previously admitted refugees or economic migrants.

Since long-term refugees need to build entirely new lives in a host country, this argument extends to broader social and cultural connections that facilitate their integration, such as sharing a language with a particular host society or the presence of an already settled co-ethnic immigrant community there. The third special duty is positional. Countries that are in a better position to protect refugees have special duties to do so compared to far away ones.

Positional duties will generally fall on nearby states and will be proportionate to their capacity to provide protection. Malta may be closer to the North African coast than Italy, but it has fewer capacities. Current European asylum policies rely heavily on an ethics of positional duties for first countries of asylum with some nods towards special connection duties. There are two obvious problems with this approach.

First, it lowers the overall capacity of the international community to provide protection to the level of aggregate capacities of those states that carry special responsibilities for refugees. Second, the distribution of burdens among states is unfair if countries that are closer to a refugee emergency and that have already taken in more refugees from a particular origin in the past are obliged to take in even more. This unfairness arises as an ethical problem only if we do not think of refugee protection as a purely humanitarian duty. A good swimmer who sees a child drowning near a beach has a moral duty to rescue the child.

It would be odd if she refused to rescue a second child or asked others to compensate her for the effort. But why should states that are far away and have not contributed through their own policies to a refugee emergency share responsibilities and burdens with other states? If some states fail to do so, all the others acquire a responsibility to provide surrogate protection.

This argument provides support for general duties of states to contribute to international refugee protection. Yet it leaves open two big questions. What can motivate self-interested states to comply with these duties? And what is it that they have to contribute? States are better off collectively if each contributes a fair share, but they are better off individually if they can pass on the buck to others. Non-cooperative players that dominate one game can then be sanctioned in another one. If they are aware of this, they may play cooperatively from the start. The international society of states provides only weak resources for resolving the refugee protection dilemma, but the European Union offers the best possible conditions for doing so.

It has institutionalized the necessary coordination mechanisms and its member states play iterated and multiple games in which the potential for punishing, and the incentives for avoiding, non-cooperative behaviour are strong. The EU has thus the institutional capacity for ensuring compliance. Moreover, in the EU context with its internally open borders and joint control of external borders, asylum seekers enter EU territory rather than merely the national territory of a particular member state.

It follows from these two premises that the EU has special duties to establish a system of fair responsibility sharing among its member states even if no similar system can be established at the global level. If a state wants to accept fewer refugees than initially allocated to it in a fair scheme, it ought to pay or transfer other resources to those states that take in more.

If these transfers reflect the costs that a preference for keeping out refugees imposes on the refugee admitting states, this should avoid perverse incentives for states that want to be seen as being hostile to refugees in order to shirk their responsibilities. This account of duties towards refugees is still incomplete. For millions of coercively displaced persons, this solution is not adequate. Most lack the financial means and physical fitness required to reach European shores, and many want to stay close to home and return there if and when possible.

Betts and Collier have suggested that admitting asylum seekers to European states is wrong because it lures many people into the Mediterranean death trap and diverts attention from the more urgent task of providing protection, jobs and education to millions stranded in refugee camps in the global South.

If the overarching goal is to provide effective protection to the largest numbers of refugees, then it would indeed be wrong to focus only on a fair distribution of responsibilities for asylum seekers among EU member states. We need to acknowledge instead that Europe as a whole has a special positional responsibility for its geographic neighbourhood and must mobilize resources for protecting and providing opportunities for displaced persons in Africa and the Middle East.

Such efforts have to be closely synchronized with development policies. In this context, the question of who qualifies as a refugee fades into the background. As pointed out by Aleinikoff and Zamore , the problem that needs to be addressed is massive displacement of people within and across international borders due to wars, failing states and economic or environmental collapse. Taking them in does not address the causes and does not help those who remain stuck in their region of origin.

Are non-entry policies and the aim to deter asylum seekers from trying to reach European borders and coasts then ethically justified after all? My answer is no for both principled and prudential reasons. The principled one is that refugees have individual rights to protection that have been enshrined in the Refugee Convention and the asylum laws of democratic states. The claims of refugees who have lost the protection of their citizenship of origin resonate with the principles on which democratic states ground their own internal legitimacy.

The external function of citizenship as an assignment of responsibility for individuals to states similarly supports a robust individual right to asylum. The prudential reason is that, in the current European political climate, calls for protecting displaced persons outside Europe instead of accepting asylum seekers in Europe provide ammunition to those want to do neither. For populists whose agenda is to close off Europe towards the outside and to dismantle it from the inside, promises to provide assistance to refugees in Africa are just cheap talk that gives them a semblance of respectability.

The ethics of immigration | SpringerLink

These efforts should enable displaced persons to stay close to their countries of origin, without being conditioned on preventing them from migrating elsewhere. Since resettled refugees generally do not have individual claims to asylum at a particular destination, they would be treated almost like economic migrants from poor countries in terms of territorial admission policies, while the distinction between the two categories must be maintained for asylum seekers.

I have argued that pre-connected migrants, free movers, economic migrants and refugees have distinct claims that liberal democracies must respond to. Yet this multiple-channels-of-admission approach seems to create a new problem. And if they are, whom should liberal states let in first or in larger numbers? From a moral perspective the obvious answer seems to be: those who have the strongest needs.


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Should Europe then close its doors to economic migrants and its internal borders for mobile EU citizens until it has taken in a sufficient number of asylum seekers and resettled refugees? Something is clearly wrong with this answer. It emerges from two fallacies: the fallacy of measuring incommensurable claims using a single yardstick of needs and the fallacy of fixed admission capacities. If Europe stops internal free movement, its member states are likely to be less open for economic migrants and refugees both in terms of economic capacities and political attitudes.

And looking around the world which wealthy democracies have taken in more refugees, these often turn out to be the same countries that have run extensive economic immigration programmes. Although it is certainly true at the local level that refugees, economic migrants and less skilled resident workers often compete for the same jobs, at the aggregate level the admission capacity of countries is not a fixed number but tends to expand with their general openness to migration and mobility.

For a political ethics of migration, it follows that states can be expected to honour the different admission claims in their own terms and may be entitled to limit numbers or impose conditions for each category safe that of returning citizens where their capacities are exhausted. What they must not do is adding up all immigrants in a single quota and closing their borders once that threshold has been reached.

The second problem that my account raises is how to handle mixed flows and mixed motives if admission claims need to be treated differently. When discussing the ethical principles that ought to guide admission policies I have distinguished refugees, economic migrants and free movers benefiting from interstate agreements. Empirically, these categories are, however, not neatly separate ones but overlap strongly. While I cannot imagine significant overlaps between refugees and free movers, there are very significant ones between refugees and economic migrants, on the one hand, and between the latter and free movers, on the other hand.

This problem goes beyond what a general political ethics of migration can deliver and requires political and administrative skills more than theoretical insights.

The Ethics of Immigration

Yet there is still a general lesson that can be drawn. Destination states themselves enhance the problem of mixed flows through indiscriminate policies of closure that push migrants with different motives and claims towards the remaining small doors of family reunification and asylum, which have not been designed for large flows, or towards the backdoor of irregular entry. If such a policy satisfies the normative criteria outlined in this article it would not reduce migration flows across the Mediterranean. It is also an illusion to believe that the right kind of development policies will reduce outmigration pressure in the short run.

They are instead more likely to increase it by endowing more people with material and cognitive resources that enable their mobility before conditions improve opportunities to the point where people can afford to stay. The implication is that Europe faces a choice between accepting many more economic migrants from the South through regular channels and a policy of closure that violates EU values and undermines EU achievements such as open internal borders.

The final lesson that I want to emphasize is that context matters for the ethics of migration — not only for explaining the different challenges that countries face because of their history or geographic location, but also normatively, in the sense of special responsibilities for neighbours.

The Mediterranean was once the cradle of European civilization. Now it has become a graveyard for many who try to reach European shores. Europe shares a historic responsibility for economic and political crises in the neighbourhood that it colonized in the past. In fact, these two challenges have become intertwined. Today it has become an ethical imperative. See Frazer Carens distinguishes, however, between his ideal theory of open borders and a realist ethics of migration policy that starts from the assumption that states have a right to control territorial admissions.

See Oberman for a defence of free movement as a human right. This right is proclaimed by Art. A slightly weaker formula is included in Art. See Angeli , p.

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A strong global egalitarianism that denies the primary responsibility of states for the welfare of their own populations is hard to reconcile with democratic norms that legitimate governments have to be responsive and accountable to their own citizens. See Blake and Brock Poland, for example, has refused to admit relocated refugees but runs currently the largest programme for temporary migrant workers mostly Ukrainian agricultural workers in the EU.

Agamben, G. Homo Sacer. Sovereign power and bare life. Redwood City: Stanford University Press. Aleinikoff, A. The arc of protection. New York. Angeli, O. Migration und Demokratie. A Tension]. Ditzingen: Reclam. Global justice, freedom of movement and democratic citizenship. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Refugee protection and burden-sharing in the European Union. Journal of Common Market Studies , 56 , — Betts, A. Refuge: Rethinking refugee policy in a changing world. London: Penguin Books. Blake, M. Immigration, jurisdiction, and exclusion. Philosopy and Public Affairs , 41 , — Debating brain drain.

May governments restrict emigration?


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Lanham and London: University Press of America. Carens, J. Aliens and citizens: The case for open Borders. The Review of Politics , 49 2 , — The ethics of immigration. Frazer, M. Utopophobia as a vocation: The professional ethics of ideal and nonideal political theory. Social Philosophy and Policy , 33 , — Gibney, M.

Debating the ethics of immigration: Is there a right to exclude?

Refugees and justice between states. European Journal of Political Theory , 14 4 , — Harpaz, Y. Compensatory citizenship: Dual nationality as a strategy of global upward mobility. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Miller, D. Strangers in our midst. The political philosophy of immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Noll, G. Risky games? A theoretical approach to burden-sharing in the asylum field. Journal of Refugee Studies , 16 , — Oberman, K. Immigration as a human right. Ypi Eds. Owen, D. In loco civitatis: On the normative basis of the institution of refugeehood and responsibility for refugees.

Rapoport, H. Tradable refugee-admission quotas: A policy proposal to reform the EU asylum policy. Florence: EUI. Rodrik, D. The globalization paradox: Democracy and the future of the world economy. New York: W. Schotel, B.

On the right of exclusion: Law, ethics and immigration policy. London: Routledge. Shachar, A. The birthright lottery. Citizenship and global inequality. Walzer, M. Spheres of justice. It amounts to nothing less than an encyclopedia on the ethics of immigration in the liberal-democratic context.

The reader is not provided merely with a collection of norms and figures, but also with the tools to produce original knowledge, to inform public debate, and to speak to and with both governmental and nongovernmental actors. Carens has multiple audiences in mind. These include students of the social sciences, law, and public policy who already focus on immigration, but also those who should arguably pay more attention to the issue, precisely because thinking about immigration raises important human rights questions. His writing style and the format of the book are academic, but the author stresses the importance of reaching general readers, especially citizens in Europe and North America.

The tension between what is feasible and what is right productively pervades every single page of the book, which is divided into two parts. Chapters 9 and 10, serving as an intermezzo, explore how that entitlement is constrained by moral considerations generally acknowledged by democratic states. Chapters 11 and 12 call into question the assumption that states are morally entitled to restrict admissions. Chapter 13 succinctly overviews the preceding chapters and powerfully restates the inherent relationship between discretionary admissions, inequality, and injustice.

It again reflects the tension between what is feasible and what is right, explicated in presuppositions or theoretical frameworks privileging in turn the conventional view, the just world, and democracy.

Christopher Heath Wellman and Phillip Cole

In his epistemological reflections, Carens is aware that adopting some of these assumptions rather than others has an effect on the questions we ask, on how we ask them, and on the arguments we advance. In one example, Carens expresses his belief that long-term residents convicted of serious criminal offenses should not be deported. And yet the book is rich [End Page ] with solidly grounded, empirically informed discussions on a variety of controversial issues often hijacked by simplistic rhetoric and poor knowledge.

Topics include construction of mosques in Europe, dilemmas about employer sanctions, practices of positive recognition, and the role of multiculturalism in fostering socio-political membership and civic participation. Other topics of discussion are the variegated mythology of the bogus refugee, the obligation of non-refoulement and resettlement, the reformation of citizenship regimes, and the dichotomy Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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