Legalize it – a humane solution to the European migration crisis

Europe has an immigration problem. Nothing new here. In short, people in Africa and Asia want to come to Europe and stay because things are better in Europe. They calculate the risks of the attempt to reach Europe versus the benefits and make a decision to go. The thing is – Europe has preciously little to offer these people. Most of them have no qualifications, do not know European languages and are ill-adjusted to European customs and society. No wonder Europe does not want these people. Besides, the benefits they will get from coming to Europe are much smaller than they think. There are no jobs waiting for them in Europe. Most chances are they will still live in poverty, just in a colder climate. And sadly, many of them will die while trying to reach Europe.

The Australian solution

I think the best solution to the crisis (which is, that many people die in the Med trying to cross) is to reduce the numbers of those attempting to cross. There are several ways to reach this. One option is to increase the risks of crossing – that is, to stop rescue operations. Sounds harsh, but this might actually greatly reduce the number of casualties as much fewer people will attempt to cross. To put numbers on it, say 1000 people attempt the journey and 10 of them drown (1% is about the current death rate on the Med). If you start a rescue program and reduce the drownings to 0.5%, but 10 000 people attempt to cross, then 50 will drown. You’ve just caused more deaths at sea – exactly what happens at the moment. On the other hand, if you cease all efforts of rescue, perhaps 5% will drown. But if given these odds only 100 will attempt to cross then just 5 will drown, so fewer people will have lost their lives as a result of NOT making an effort to rescue at all. A more dangerous crossing will also cost more so less people will be able to afford it.

Another option is to reduce the potential benefits of crossing – that is, to send them out of Europe as soon as they enter (works fine in Australia). Of course, informing the potential migrants about the high risks and low benefits is absolutely crucial here. The long-term solution is to improve the situation in the “source” countries of migrants. This would be the best, but ultimately, the people of these countries are primarily responsible for their states, not Europe, and there is very little Europe can do to help them – Europe has got its hands full with its own problems already.

A legal alternative would benefit both Europe and the migrants

A solution that is humane, profitable for both Europe and the “source” countries and politically absolutely unreachable is a common European migration policy. This will create a legal alternative for the illegal migration and potentially can address the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the European migration crisis.

Europe needs qualified migrants – its a fact. Within the EU there are just not enough people with the right qualifications and more importantly, motivation to do the type of jobs available. Italy, for example, has thousands of vacancies for pizza bakers but Italians don’t want the job. Holland needs hundreds of IT specialists, which are just not available in the EU. Ideally, the EU could work out an agreement allowing a limited number of migrants to come to the EU to work for say 3 or 5 years – a sort of EU “green card”. The migrants can get work experience, learn the ins and outs of life in a democratic society, send money back home and return to help others improve their lives.

Unfortunately, in recent past, migrants who were brought into Europe to fill job vacancies were unqualified and did not leave but rather brought their entire families. In times of economic downturn these migrants came to depend on the European social system, so there is quite a resentment among Europeans against such schemes. New migration policies can only be accepted if they include a strict condition that that work migrants leave after their period. The terms need to be strict for the policy to be acceptable to EU citizens – that is, no family reunion, no staying after the term under any circumstances (marriage, contract extension and such), and no job market distortion. To mutual benefit, part of the taxes collected from these legal migrants can be used by the EU to sponsor programs to improve the quality of life in their countries of origin. And since the migrants will know they will have to return to their home countries, they will invest there themselves and save money to prepare for a “soft landing” after their term of stay in Europe.

Opening a legal option will fulfil the moral obligation of Europe to help people in need, like the Syrian refugees. Many of them are qualified, skilled and experienced people who would be much better off working in Europe than idling in camps in Jordan or Turkey. Offering the refugee communities an opportunity to send an “envoy” to Europe who would provide for his family residing in the region is making the best of a tough situation.

Visa quotas as a policy tool

Visa quotas can be a simple mechanism to address the bad sides of migration. Linking the amount of (temporary) job visas to the performance of the migrant groups will give the migrant communities a powerful incentive to invest in each other. Right now, for example, only about 20% of the Somalis in the Netherlands have a job. If that would mean next year the amount of visas for Somali’s is reduced by 4/5th, the Somali community would certainly do its utter best to help their compatriots to become a tax-payer instead of a tax-receiver.

The benefits of legal temporary entry will also mean the communities will help the authorities control migration, as being a law-abiding community carries benefits in terms of more (and possibly longer) visa’s and perhaps an extra stimulus in terms of lower taxes. This makes economic sense – if the EU countries have to spend less money on controls and penalties of a well-behaved group of migrants, the group should profit directly from its collective good behaviour.

Quotas for legal entry will give the EU a much-needed foreign policy tool. Numerous countries depend on cash sent home by migrant workers. With the quotas in hand, the EU will be able to say to dictators and human rights abusers like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea “do as we say or else we cut your cash flow by reducing visa’s”.

Back in Europe, police forces are facing a very difficult task when attempting to investigate crime in migrant communities. Police officers do not speak the languages of all the communities and many migrants are reluctant to work with police, either because of bad experiences with police back home or because they are being loyal to the community. Using the quotas and visa extensions as a reward for cooperation with police on issues such as reporting illegal migrants or criminal activities will enable the police to do its work with and among the migrant communities.

Finally, with a solid system of legal migration, Europe can be tough on the unwelcome, hostile people who mix with the migrant flows. Like the Muslim migrants who threw Christians overboard because they were not praying to Allah – these are certainly not the kind of people Europe wants to enter its borders. Drying the illegal migration routes by offering a legal alternative is in my opinion the best way to prevent such people from entering the EU.

What are the odds of the EU agreeing on migration?

I realize this scheme for an EU-wide migration policy is a utopian concept that will probably not happen in the near future. But of the various EU members, perhaps there is a small European country that will be prepared to give rational approach to migration a chance?


Filed under Europe, Work

8 responses to “Legalize it – a humane solution to the European migration crisis

  1. Great post, totally agree!

  2. Thanks for adding to the debate. Unfortunately, I do not see your proposal as a solution.

    People ineligible for the scheme – and those who are unsuccessful – would face the same incentives as they do presently. They would still attempt the crossing.

    A denial of any moral responsibility to save people dying in the Med is deplorable. Your utilitarian-esque argument about the potential increase in deaths is not only fictitious but baseless and flawed.

    • My argument that by attempting to save them we actually cause more suffering is just a single part of my proposal. I welcome your arguments as to why it is “baseless and flawed”. I also hope you have a suggestion as to what to do with those rescued – should Europe take care of them and for how long? Can we send them back and when?

      However, that is not the main point I am making. My main point is that with the availability of a legal scheme, it will be morally responsible to refuse illegals entry to the EU. That will be the biggest reducer in the incentive to cross the Med. The Med is no longer the most important route anyway, its just a part of the bigger problem of illegal entry. I hope you will find time and will to address the rest of my proposal.

      • I know, but you do use the argument as a basis for suggesting that saving people in the Med would be counterproductive. The argument is baseless because we have no reason to believe that saving people in the Med would lead to more deaths: I would expect the opposite to be true. It is flawed as a utilitarian argument because it does not take account of the utility benefit of the increased number of people who would successfully make the crossing. My view is that Europe – for now, at least – has sufficient capacity to “take care” of as many migrants as wish to make the crossing. The problem is political, not practical. I made a suggestion regarding the handling of new arrivals in my own blog post, which happily the EU now seems to be trying to implement:

        We simply differ in our view of the extent to which your suggestion could be a solution. There are already legal mechanisms for migration to Europe; albeit not EU-wide mechanisms. Your suggestion may be a good one, but I do not see it impacting on the current crisis.

      • Right now, more than ever people are saved trying to cross the Med. And more than ever people are dying while trying. So there is some basis to my claim there. That’s not the point of my post – its just a sideline.

        My view is that Europe has no benefit from successful arrivals of illegal immigrants. So the utilitarian argument works, it just depends on where you draw the boundaries of the system and which benefits do you include.

        My suggestion will impact the crisis if, when faced with the prospect of immediate deportation, people will stop trying to reach Europe illegally and will do their best to acquire a legal entry visa.

        People invest thousands of Euro/Dollars in paying smugglers to get them across the sea. You’d think they would invest a tiny percentage of that amount on swimming lessons – yet how many of those crossing can’t swim? Perhaps establishing swimming schools in Gambia and Senegal would be the most cost-efficient solution to reduce the amount of drownings. Then the migrants would be able, in case of an emergency, to stay afloat until help arrives.

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