We have our freedom to move & settle, according to our choice. Then what is it, that chains our feet?
If you were born to European parents, you could move freely within the European Union (EU). The Schengen Agreement gives even Nepalese free movement within the Union once you get in, but penetrating the EU boundaries is by no means easy for those over here.
If you were a US national you would not have too much problem in entering most countries of the world. However, as a Nepalese to enter the US is difficult. Student visas are impossible to obtain for most and employment permits are not available except for a few high-tech and other selected positions.
Getting a tourist visa for Japan is an ordeal. Likewise, Canada, UK, Australia remain closed for the majority.
It is ironic that as air travel has made it easier and faster to get to a destination of your choice, government barriers keep making it tougher and time consuming. Politicians and bureaucrats meet regularly to discuss ways to remove restrictions on movement of goods. WTO is an example. However, every time government officials get together they conjure up even more restrictions on our right to go where we want to.
This trend to restrict our movements accelerated after 9/11. In the name of fighting terrorism governments around the globe have instituted an array of stringent controls on immigration.
It is doubtful whether these controls catch any terrorists but they do make travel difficult for all of us. Osama is unlikely to be seeking a visa or openly crossing borders. However, in his name, governments have utilized the opportunity to restrict our movements even though we may have nothing to do with Al Qaeda.
Visa paper-work by embassies and routine checks at airports, which everyone is aware of and hence can take evasive measures against, hardly catch anyone. Our purpose would be better served with trained and vigilant policemen in plainclothes, aided with cameras and high-tech devices, carrying out unobtrusive checks at airports.
Countries must regard travelers and immigrants as customers and treat them with deference that is their due. When you go to a five star hotel, you are unlikely to be aware of their security – they do their work unobtrusively and with a minimum of fuss. But create a disturbance and see how soon you are removed. That is what is required of countries around the world.
Governments should take a leaf out of how private businesses manage. Do not ask your customers to adjust to your procedures, adjust your procedures to suit your customers. This may well be too much to ask from control-minded officials. The only solution, therefore, is to privatize airports and airport security and abolish visa restrictions.
There are principally three other objections against immigration. None of them stand basic scrutiny:
The foremost objection by the US and the EU is that we do not have room for everyone. Not true.
The US population could triple without adding any numbers to existing cities. The US has large tracts of land available for development of wonderful new cities especially in the west. The problem is lack of people to inhabit those areas.
Though Europe’s population density is higher than the US, most countries could double their population and still have only a fraction of population density when compared with Singapore, Hong Kong or Europe’s own Monaco.
Secondly, countries worry about immigrants taking up jobs. This argument considers merely one side of the picture. Immigrants do take up jobs, but they also create jobs for others when they buy goods and services. Immigrants need housing, cars, health services and food like everyone else and this leads to a corresponding increase in employment as well.
The third worry is that immigrants may end up on welfare and have to be supported by local taxpayers. True, but then stop handouts and charity for those coming in. Let them earn their own living with the host country providing only opportunity and nothing else.
Nepal cannot change the world but it can open itself to travelers. Abolish visa fees and controls. It would be great boon to Nepal by giving an immediate boost to its tourism, trade and foreign investment. It may well even shame a few countries into following its example.