Most people in modern Britain have little or no experience of visas. Either we don’t need a visa or else it’s straightforward to obtain one by spending a few minutes on a computer. Most people don’t want to go to the places, like Russia or China, which require visas you have to send away for, but with a little trouble, expense and form filling it’s not that difficult to go to Moscow, Beijing or even Minsk. There are some places that are genuinely tough to visit. Bhutan in the Himalayas makes you pay a $250 tax per day just to go there. They have only relatively recently opened their country to the world at all. They don’t want to be overwhelmed by the modern world and its people. Still with a few exceptions if we have enough money we can visit almost any country in the world. Money opens doors.
What we frequently forget in Britain is that huge numbers of people in the world cannot travel where they please for the simple reason that they don’t have enough money to do so. It’s difficult if not impossible for all but the wealthiest Russians to come to the UK. In order to obtain a tourist visa to visit the UK you have to demonstrate that you have enough money to take care of yourself and stay in hotels for the duration of your stay. You have to show that you have a job and property in Russia and that it is likely that you will return. It is easier if you have a UK resident who can sponsor your trip, but the process of obtaining a visa is still expensive, time consuming and far from guaranteed. For the most part it is practically speaking impossible for the average Russian citizen to come to live and work in the UK unless they marry a Brit.
Are we then discriminating against Russians? Yes we are. Someone who was born in a part of the Soviet Union that is now Latvia has the right to live and work in the UK by virtue of Latvia being in the EU. Another person who was born a Soviet citizen doesn’t have that right. This might seem unfair, but this is the nature of the world. We don’t allow everyone from the world even to visit the UK because we think that if we did a proportion would overstay or in some other way abuse their visas
We make a distinction between people from some countries who find it easy to visit Britain and people from other countries who find it hard or even impossible to visit. On what basis do we do this? Well generally we favour people from friendly nations and allies. We also favour people from countries with standards of living which are similar to ours. Few Japanese people would want to work illegally in the UK, but lots of Russians would. This is because the standard of living in Japan is similar to the UK, while in Russia it is much lower. The likelihood of someone abusing the visa granted to them is a key part of the calculation of whether the visa is granted or not.
We are then already discriminating against the vast majority of citizens in the world. Every Western country does the same. Unless you favour a world without borders, which is very noble of you, but not very practical, then it is necessary to accept that we have to limit the right of most people in the world to travel to the UK.
The Conservative Party for some years has wished to limit immigration to the tens of thousands per year. One of the reasons why the British people voted to leave the EU is that it became obvious that the only way to limit immigration was to leave. You might disagree with attempts to limit immigration, but this in effect is to get rid of borders. Campaign for that if you will, but you will find that the majority disagree with you, not least because our health and welfare systems would collapse.
It is practically speaking much easier for someone from the First World to visit countries like the UK, Canada and the USA. Every First World country discriminates against people from other parts of the world. We also have for many years made it more difficult for people from some countries that are considered to be dangerous to come to here. It may be difficult for a Russian to gain a visa to travel to the UK, but it is still more difficult for someone from Afghanistan. We discriminate against the citizens of certain countries still more than we discriminate against others. There comes a point when practically speaking it is almost impossible for the average citizen of some countries to come here legally.
The principle of preventing people from one or more country travelling is not new. There are a number of countries that have travel bans against citizens of other countries. People from parts of West Africa were banned from travelling during the Ebola epidemic. Israeli citizens are banned from going to many countries.
In times of war it has sometimes been felt necessary to arrest citizens of other countries and intern them. No doubt this was unjust to many innocent people. But the fear of allowing a few spies to live at large meant that both the innocent and the guilty were punished.
We must accept then that the process of allowing people to visit our country involves discrimination. Why then has the action of the United States President caused such uproar? The reason is that Trump implemented his policy in the worst possible way.
It was unjust to detain visa holders and people with Green cards. If you apply for such a visa and it has been granted then you should be allowed to proceed about your business unless there is a good reason to prevent you doing so.
There was no need whatsoever for Donald Trump to provide a blanket ban on travel for people from certain countries. All he needed to do was to advise the embassies in these countries that they should make it more difficult for people to obtain visas. We already accept the principle that it is more difficult for citizens of some countries to travel to the UK or the USA than certain other countries. The reason for this discrimination is based on the policies of the Government of each country. They don’t have to justify their reasons.
At various points in the past decades a US President has made it difficult if not impossible for citizens of Iran and Iraq to obtain visas to go the USA. The problem then with Trump is that we went about his attempt to limit the travel rights of people from various countries in a way that was arbitrary, unjust and contrary to the normal rules by which Western countries act.
The problem with Donald Trump is that he wants to shout from the roof tops something that would be far better to be implemented quietly and without fuss. He could have made it practically much more difficult for the vast majority of the citizens of the countries he wished to exclude simply by setting conditions for their visa applications that they would be unlikely to be able to fulfil. The United Kingdom already does this with regard to citizens of Russia and many other countries. The United States clearly would have the same right to do likewise. We are allowed to discriminate on the grounds of wealth. If this were not the case we could not even ask a visa applicant if they had enough money for their trip. All President Trump then needed to do was to set the financial requirement for obtaining a visa high enough that it would achieve the limitation he was looking for. This need not only have applied to countries from one region of the world, such as the Middle East but could have applied to a number of others. In this way there would be no question of discrimination apart from financial discrimination.
Trump’s blanket ban was foolish also because it did not take into account other circumstances. There ought to have been exceptions for people who were highly skilled and had job offers or university places. People with family members in the United States ought also to have been given preferential treatment.
It is not wrong to wish to limit immigration. It is also not wrong to wish to limit immigration from certain countries. If this were not the case it would be wrong for us to have visas at all. We are after all limiting the rights of Russians to come to Britain, while not limiting the rights of people from the Republic of Ireland. We accepted that it was right to limit the freedom of Germans in the UK in 1939, because we could not tell who was dangerous and who was not. For the same reason it is not unreasonable to limit the rights to travel of people who come from countries which at present are full of violence and terrorism. We cannot tell who is innocent and who is guilty.
But in trying to protect ourselves we ought not to behave in a way that is arbitrary and unjust. We should be open and we should also welcome people from all countries, cultures and faiths. But we do have the right to limit who can come. By setting the requirement for obtaining a visa high enough such that we favour those who can invest in the UK, have family members here, or are highly skilled we will be not be discriminating against anyone. The reason someone cannot obtain a visa will be objective. It will be because they do not meet the conditions we have chosen to set. In this way we will succeed in limiting immigration, while minimising the risks of allowing people to arrive here who may pose a threat to our security.
Donald Trump has a right to do what he thinks is necessary to protect the United States. We have the same right here in the UK. But the way in which this is done must not be perceived to be grounded in prejudice. A heightened level of security can be obtained without causing resentment and anger simply by quietly changing the rules by which visas are granted. Trump could have achieved exactly the same result without any demonstrations if he had just acted in a way that was more subtle and if he had thought through his actions more carefully. This unfortunately is not his nature.
It would be wrong to discriminate against people who follow the Russian Orthodox faith, but in practice we do make it very difficult for them to visit the UK. We do this because the UK doesn’t have very friendly relations with Russia and because Russians are poor. If a large number of Russian citizens came to Britain and poisoned our tea with polonium or carried out other terrorist acts we might make it still harder for Russians to travel here. We would be doing so however not because they were Orthodox, but because a proportion of Russian citizens were dangerous and we couldn’t tell who was innocent and who was guilty. There would be nothing unjust about making it much more difficult for Russians to obtain visas. Indeed it would be prudent.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2017/02/how-donald-trump-could-limit-migration.html