What If Rich Countries Shut the Door on Immigration? They would start to look like North Korea, says an Oxford professor By World Economic Forum | 20 September 2012

21 Sep

Amid a global recession, catastrophic rates of unemployment in developed countries and a rising tide of xenophobia, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with TIME, speaks with Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School and a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, about the likelihood of anti-immigrant policies coming to the fore. Goldin warns that such policies would not only harm communities the world over, but be counterproductive.

Are we in the throes of a global backlash against immigration?
We’re seeing an increasing focus on immigration in response to the severe economic crisis, rising unemployment and falling living standards. As has happened throughout history, there’s a tendency to blame immigrants for these problems. Politically, it’s an easy option, but it’s never worked out too well as a strategy.

And there are clear signs of this?
In the worst case, there has been a wave of physical attacks on immigrants in Greece this year, with people being beaten up or stabbed just because of the way they look. On the political level, there are also very real examples of anti-immigration policies. In the U.K., the government has put dramatic caps on migration, which are making it hard to hire skilled workers. It’s so difficult to get a visa now that I’m finding that people from, say, China or South Africa are no longer willing to come to academic conferences here. In Spain, immigrants are offered lump-sum payments to go home. In the recent French elections, the far-right National Front campaigned heavily against migration and won almost a fifth of the votes. In the U.S., immigration is a hot topic ahead of the elections, although what’s interesting there is that since Latinos are such a significant voting force it changes the dynamic.

What would have to happen for a government to really shut the door?
If rich countries were really going to shut the door on immigration, they would need to stop international flights, block their ports, end tourism and brace themselves for a rapid contraction in GDP. Far from seeing unemployment fall, it would rise: companies would fail as they lose staff and management, and demand would fall. Ironically, we would expect to see a higher number of illegal immigrants. In the U.S., whenever the government has taken a tougher line on immigration-law enforcement, the number of Mexicans living there illegally has actually risen. This makes sense when you consider that, if you know you’re not going to be allowed back into a country, you’re going to stay, rather than leave when the jobs dry up.

Who would feel the impact the most?
Migrants to start with: the legal ones before the illegal ones. Then everyone else. So many industries — from agriculture to health care to construction to technology to tourism — depend on migrant workers. Hospitals would close as they lose cleaners and heart surgeons alike. Women who depend on foreign nannies to go out to work would suffer. There would also be a very damaging impact on the migrants’ home countries: in many developing countries, it is striking that the financial support from expatriate remittances well exceeds foreign aid — yet this vital assistance would dry up.


Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “What If Rich Countries Shut the Door on Immigration? They would start to look like North Korea, says an Oxford professor By World Economic Forum | 20 September 2012

  1. Shahid Hussain Raja

    September 21, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    while fully agreeing with the above views i will add that the rich countries are already resorting to selective anti-immigration overtly as well as covertly.By selectively I mean they allow ,rather encourage the wealthy,highly educated and extremely skilled professionals to settle in their respective countries but raise the bars for unskilled ones.this is second wave of brain drain which is resulting in capital flight from the poor to the rich as well as draining them of their pool of skilled workforce.

  2. Marco Colucci

    October 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Dear Professor Chofor Che,
    Thank you for your article which I did appreciated. I would like just to raise a technical criticism. Since 1975 the UN asked all States to refrain from the use of the term “illegal” immigrants and to use, instead, the more appropriate “irregular” or “non-documented” immigrants. See UNGA resolution 3449(XXX) of 9 December 1975. As a lawyer, I am sure you will agree with me that the mere fact of being in a given place cannot entail the “illegality” of a person. Thank you very much.

    • Robert Stephen Higgins

      July 6, 2013 at 2:17 am

      I do not prefer euphemisms. If a foreigner does not have official permission from immigration authorities to be in a country then he/she is an illegal immigrant. Call a spade a spade for heavens sake!

  3. Shahid Hussain Raja

    October 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Marco, thank you for your clarification which has given us opportunity to see the whole issue in entirely new perspective.More than 15000 irregular/non-documented immigrants have died during the last ten years trying to enter Europe which very conveniently forgets how it sent its own un-wanted citizens to all corners of the world during the age of imperialism a few centuries ago.Because of its aging population Europe now needs a reverse migration


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