If they come from a poor country, they may find that they have to move elsewhere to find jobs that allow they to feed and house themselves and their families. If their country of origin is failing due to war, widespread corruption or crime, getting away may be a matter of survival.
If they want to work in specialized fields, their country of origin may have limited opportunities, and moving to a larger country may offer more opportunities for high paying jobs or further professional development. In the case of young people, this includes opportunities for higher education.
If you are rich, you will be welcomed. In the US, you can buy your way in, if you can invest a million dollars in a business in a "disadvantaged area" (from your savings, i.e. without borrowing) and get a green card. In Switzerland, a similar program is available. Most countries have not codified such a program, but if you are in this class of immigrant, they will find a way to creatively interpret the rules to let you in.
If you are upper middle class, and especially if your are from a country of similar wealth as the one you are moving to, things get a little more complicated, but you will almost certainly find a way. It is notable, that at this level, migration tends to be somewhat symmetrical: Some German auto designers and engineers want to work in Detroit, some American auto designers want to work in Munich, Berlin or Wolfsburg. This category also includes business executives, college professors, doctors and Olympic class athletes.
If you have education and qualifications to work in an area where the receiving country has a shortage of workers, most countries have rules that allow you to come in as long as you can find a willing employer. These visas are temporary, but usually there is a way to convert them to a permanent residence after a few years.
If you are poor - it is much harder, and your chances depend on where you are from and how desperately you want to move. There are two categories and they are treated very differently:
The worst problem that we have at this time, is that we have a population of around 12 million undocumented, "illegal" immigrants living clandestinely among about 300 million citizens and legal holders of immigrant visas. This severely undermines people's respect for the law. Most of these are nice and hard working people that should have been admitted lawfully, and because they have friends that want to protect them from deportation, we cannot simply get rid of them.
The second problem is that these undocumented immigrants are needed by the labor market, the business community wants them here, and are willing to hire them despite their lack of legal papers.
The third problem is that the criteria for who can legally immigrate are unworkable. One of the rules sets a limit on the number of people that can immigrate from each country in the world. As I remember it, that limit is 20,000 persons per country per year. That really does not limit the number of people coming in from a small country like Denmark, but it is like a needle's eye for people wanting to come in from China, Mexico, Afghanistan, Syria or Honduras. If a working class person from Mexico wants to come in to join family members that are already here, there is a 10 or 20 year waiting list. So in practice, there is no legal path for them to come in.
Imagine a woman with a teenage son from Guatemala coming to the same border crossing, applying for asylum. She is fleeing, because the drug gangs have threatened to kill her son if he does not agree to be a drug courier. She is unlikely to qualify for for asylum, because she is not persecuted by the government in her home country. She is supposed to be sent back to her home country. But since she has applied for asylum, she must first be given a hearing to determine her eligibility. Due to the under-staffing, the court date assigned may be two years in the future. The rules assume that she will be held in detention until her hearing, but the agency does not have facilities to hold that many people incarcerated, so she will be told a place and time for her court hearing, and then released into the USA until the court date. But she and her son will not be given a work permit, so this only works if she has family members already legally in the US, who can support her, or if a private charity is willing to support her with food and housing during the waiting period.
Now imagine a farm-worker family from Southern Mexico who cannot find work there, because a prolonged drought has laid waste to the farmland where they used to live. Even if they could find work on a farm elsewhere in Mexico, it will be a challenge to find a new home and find work, because the people that already live there have the advantage. So the stories from others that are working in the USA will make them want to come here instead. They cannot come here as legal immigrants, because the waiting lists hare already full, with enough people on them to use the quotas for a decade into the future. So they will pay a smuggler to take them over the border and look for work as undocumented workers. Or they may apply for asylum and figure that with an asylum application pending, they won't be deported until they reach the court date, and then they can slide into the underground economy.
Each of the above categories is an unmanageable problem. If we could get a preliminary hearing within two weeks, and keep the applicants in detention until the hearing, we could deport them as soon as the hearing has deemed them inadmissible.
Second fix needed: Adjust quota numbers to be proportional to the population of each of countries from which people may want to come here, and try hard to make sure that there is a path for legal immigration from each country.
Third fix needed: Simplify the rules, so they can be easily explained, end more easily enforced.
Fourth fix needed: Establish a national ID card system, where one of the data fields indicated the person's nationality, and another the person's eligibility for legal employment, with heavy fines on anyone who employs someone who is not allowed to work here.
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject "Immigration".
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