If anti-immigration sentiment has not become the latest ideological fad, it is not far from that. Every people, or so it seems, want to keep their country out of the reach of “meddling foreigners.” To be sure, a strong wave of anti-immigration fever has been sweeping across the world and appears to get worse by the day. Yet the illogic of this sentiment is astonishing.
What happenned in South Africa recently where some misguided Black nationals descended in a most barbaric manner on fellow Blacks, and other foreigners from Asia, killing and destroying foreign owners of business and their businesses, is the latest reminder of this dangerous trend.
The grouse of anti-immigration campaigners is that foreigners are allegedly taking over their jobs, and leaving nationals with no means of livelihoood. This, in their thinking, is unacceptable and must be resisted by any means, including recourse to violence. While not many new jobs are being created, they argue, the few that are coming up, should not be taken by foreigners, to the disadvantage of nationals. This would appear to be the strongest argument by these “protectionists and protectors of national interest” as one economist mockingly referred to them, against immigration.
But the pretext has been proved over and over to be spurious. It is an argument without stamina in the face of globalisation and regional integration. Indeed such an argument is a mere ploy to cloak xenophobia in a world in which productive economic activities have become virtually seamless. Jobs are no longer as localised as they used to be. The man who controls the gold mines of South Africa, for instance, need not be resident in Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, or in Pretoria or Cape Town or Bloemfontein. He may as well make his home in any part of the world, as far removed as the North pole. That is one of the fallouts of globalisation.
Those who seek economic fortune in other countries should not therefore be seen as interlopers or leeches, out to deprive nationals of economic opportunities. Indeed most of such immigrants are in search of new opportunities to improve their economic lot by adding value to their host countries. When they go into business, they are in it to make profit, grow and expand, pay all the local taxes and rates levied by the host government. As their businesses grow, they hire locals as assistants and business managers. We do not see how this hurts the local economy. Rather, it bolsters it.
The xenophobic attacks against foreigners which swept across South Africa must therefore be seen as the product of ignorance on the part of those who sponsored and executed them. We agree with those who argue that lack of education and poverty are to blame for such a misguided action. There is no proof that countries with a liberal immigration policy fare worse than those with a tight lid on immigration. One good examples is the United States (US). The strength of the North American country lies largely on its open door policy to all deserving immigrants, not criminal fugitives. The country taps from the strength of its diverse peoples drawn from literally every corner of the earth. As one writer put it, “America’s strength lies not only in its diversity but also in its open arms towards immigrants.” Is it any surprise that the US is the world’s strongest and biggest economy?
Even formerly reclusive countries such as China and Japan are beginning to see the futility of such a policy and are gradually throwing their borders and ports open to skilled immigrants who have something to offer to the further growth of their economies.
It must, however, be admitted that dwindling national resources and adverse socio-economic conditions such as poverty, wars and misgovernance, are the major drivers of large scale emigration from developing countries. Governments across the world must then take actions to stem these conditions. When nationals find their environments conducive for earning a living, they would be less tempted to seek immigration into other lands.
That, nevertheless, is not to say that immigration by itself is a bad idea. It is something that no serious country can do without. Hyper-nationalists, ethnocentrists, racists and all manner of xenophobes and scoundrels have always taken cover under “protecting jobs” to execute their antiimmigration agenda. But are they right? The answer is that they are dead wrong. Foreigners are a spur, not a drag to the economies of their hosts if they are properly enlisted.