Putting aside for a moment the conversation raised about just opening all borders and letting people go where they want, returning to the assumption that immigration has to be controlled. How to control it? Well,the prevailing wisdom these days in many governments seems to change towards an economic immigration policy – letting people in on the basis of what they can bring to the economy as opposed to, for example, on the basis of family connections.

Charles Krauthammer, in an article for the Washington Post rails against the elimination of a special category for those who are highly skilled and valuable, saying for dramatic effect that if the system had been that way back in the day, we would’ve rejected Albert Einstein as an immigrant. OK. (BTW, I want to go back to this article later – several things to take issue with here.)

Sounds similar to, for example, the attitude that prevails with the new French government under Sarkozy. Here‘s an article from Spring, 2006, when Sarkozy was still Interior Minister, after the French National Assembly voted to change immigration laws in favor of qualified workers. Differing from Krauthammer’s view, which recognizes this as a small part of immigration, the current Sarkozy administration wants to drastically shift from family to economic immigration – as in to raise it from 7 to 50% of overall immigration.

Now this does seem make a certain sense, and would certainly appease those who see immigration as, currently, nothing but a drain on resources. But perhaps that’s a short-sighted view. Again, we need to think of immigration not as the domestic policy of one country but as everyone’s foreign policy issue.

From the article on the change in French law:

Critics say the law risks creaming off the most talented people from countries where they are badly needed, and will make life harder for ordinary migrants.

“Keeping the best and sending back the worst is not exactly Christian,” said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon.

Ivorian reggae singer Alpha Blondy said: “This notion of chosen immigration, this migratory apartheid takes us back to the time of slavery, when the traders chose the strongest or those with the best teeth to take them to the west.”

Ouch. Harsh. Not sure I could really agree wholeheartedly with the slavery comparison, but I think there are two important elements of the argument raised here.

One is that, once again, we need to think about this in terms, not just of domestic policy, but of how it affects the immigrants countries of origin. If we take the stance that one of the most important things we need to do to curb these massive economic migrations is to ensure that other countries are well enough off that people won’t want to leave them en masse, then we need to think about what happens if wealthier countries drain off the very people most qualified to improve the situations in those countries. And of course, they will want to leave to seek a better life, but we need to create incentives in these countries, (like Iraq, which is facing a major brain drain) for people to stay and develop them. Anything less would be hypocritical: our country deserves well qualified workers, yours does not.

And will not the drain on their intellectual resources also just worsen their domestic situation, driving more to immigrate, and worsening the rush to wealthier countries? Vicious cycle.

And the moral argument that the Archbishop brings up is, while rarely addressed, also pertinent. Is someone who has had the privilege of an education in their home country, essentially more worthy of a chance at a better life than someone who has not? I don’t think I’d feel comfortable saying that they are. Aren’t they also going to have a better chance of having a decent life in the home country than the person who never had that education?

Neither side seems ideal – either telling a highly skilled person that they are less deserving to immigrate than someone who happens to have a cousin in that country or telling someone already at the bottom of the barrel that they must remain there.