Building Walls in a Flat World: New Immigration Policies in the West and their Impact on Immigration

It is not a Flat World After All

The famous cheerleader for globalization, Thomas Friedman, called the current day world as flat as because of globalization, barriers have come down and anyone is free to invest anywhere and compete with everyone from everywhere. However, in recent months, the notion of a Flat World has taken a beating because countries in the West are raising the bogey of protectionism and the specter of building imaginary walls between themselves and the rest of the world is becoming a reality. We are referring to the decisions of the US and the UK governments to impose tighter restrictions on immigrants from other countries. Though in the US, there is a proposal to reform the immigration laws, it has met with fierce resistance from the Republicans as far as the entry of low skilled workers is concerned.

Further, the US has in parallel made it tighter for highly skilled professionals in the H1B Visa category to enter the country and work there. The UK has similarly put in place a risk security deposit to deter and discourage immigrants from entering the country. All these measures indicate that the flat world paradigm is crumbling and what we have are the old world style restrictions on the free movement of people.

The Rise of Anti Immigrant Lobbies

The rise of the anti-immigrant lobbies has been the characteristic of the last few years though some would say that they were never away and that they were biding their time. The ongoing recession has given them a great opportunity to press their cause as they feed upon the insecurities of the native population about jobs being taken away by foreigners. What exacerbates the situation in countries like the US and the UK and in Europe is that many of the existing jobs have been outsourced and what are left are being filled by low cost immigrants. These conditions make it ripe for the right wing politicians and demagogues to prey upon the fear of the people and propose strict anti-immigration policies that many previously liberal voters are now backing. This means that the anti-immigration lobbies are growing in importance steadily and it is only a matter of time before they take center stage unless viable alternatives are found by the pro globalization and pro immigrant lobbies.

Protectionism and the Global Economic Crisis

The trends discussed above are typical protectionist measures that are put in place whenever economic conditions turn gloomy. As the present global economic crisis has darkened the mood in many Western countries, it is but natural for protectionism to rear its ugly head. This means that politicians with vested interests and hidden agendas of promoting right wing nationalism and jingoism take the center stage. Already this is happening in countries like Greece where many hitherto fringe groups are growing in popularity. As mentioned earlier, gloomy economic conditions are ripe for politicians to take advantage as the insecurity among the people about losing their jobs and livelihood to foreigners is potent and can be exploited to the hilt. Further, protectionism in the form of policies favoring domestic companies and native workers against foreign competition and immigrants is a byproduct of dark economic times. This is the reason why many experts believe that the flat world is no longer flat and walls are being built again to protect domestic interests over free trade and commerce. Whether this is, a good thing or a bad thing depends on one’s perspective, as there are many who stand to gain by globalization and there are many who stand to gain by protectionism.

Concluding Remarks

Finally, the point to be noted is that whether the west insulates itself again or lets the winds from everywhere blow into their countries, the temptation to write off either globalization or ignore protectionism must be avoided and the way out is for a moderate approach to be adopted.


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Managerial Economics