Friday, March 23, 2007

Immigrants are forever

One - and probably the most important - immigration issue that the US handles better than Finland is that the US understands that people who come to the country are there forever, and is realistic about it. Well, tourists are usually an exception, but even they sometimes stay. When you let a refugee, a guest worker or a foreign student in, there is a very good chance that you are never going to get rid of them. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but this is the kind of thing that should be discussed realistically and taken into consideration when admitting people into the country.

Refugees come to the host countries, and most of them are already offically in need of a permanent resettlement and are given some kind of permanent or soon-to-be-permanent residence permits, either immediately or after a long application process. Some are issued temporary permits on the assumption that the problem in their country of origin is only temporary. The time flows, and some of them finds spouses, some find jobs and the rest get their temporary permits extended. Then, after a few years and a few residence permits the authorities discover that, against all their expectations, the third-world shithole where the immigrants have originally come from has still failed to develop into a semblance of a civilized country, say "what the heck" and give them a permanent residence permit. After having supported them for several years on taxpayer money, usually.

For some reason Finns tend to have an illusion that refugees will eventually go home. Regular people have this illusion more often than immigration authorities - I often run into people saying that refugees should not be expected to work because they are here just to be protected. These people mean that they think the refugees here are temporarily. (At least I hope so - otherwise they would mean that refigees should be entitled to lifetime support in Finland just because they ran away from somewhere, and that is a bit too much even for the most multicultural folks. I hope.)

I've never run into this in the US. There might be some kind of a temporary refugee visa there, but I've never met a person who'd had it. Or a person who imagined that refugees eventually go back. There, people know that refugees are forever.

IME the understanding that refugees are here to stay is a healthier way to relate to them than expecting them to go back, both for the country and for the refugee (there are a lot of refugees that also imagine that they will eventually go home, although they won't). The causes that produce refugees are usually long-term, and the people who flee some genuinely short-term trouble like floods don't usually go all that far.

As the result of the realization that refugees are there to stay Americans are both somewhat more welcoming, somewhat less patronizing, and have more expectations of the refugees. They hear your sob story in the consulate, give you a visa if you are lucky, take care of the elderly and sick and provide the newly-arrived refugees with a health insurance for a while. Then you come to the country, and come to your case worker, and they give you a booklet with some useful information, tell you what officials you have to visit, where the English classes are and how many months of support they will provide you, and wish you good luck finding a job. This might sound a bit uncompassionate from the Finnish perspective, but the jobs are usually somehow found, and fairly quickly.

The same goes for guest workers from undeveloped countries. (The people from developed countries usually move to other developed countries for some personal reason, so their moves are a lot less predictable.) There are exceptions among the people from undeveloped countries, too, but in general a person who has moved from some Camelfuckistan to a civilized country does not want to go back to Camelfuckistan any more than you want to move to Camelfuckistan. And they won't. Deal with it.

The common objections: from the left: "but of course they want to go back to their homeland", and from the right: "but of course we can make them go back". Sure thing. Just ask Germany. Or France. Or the Netherlands.

(Dealing with it IMO means a)don't let any group of refugees or foreign workers in unless you can accept that they will probably become a permanent fixture, and b)any integration measures should be applied to any immigrants you can get your hands on (i.e. everyone on public assistance), even if the triple choir of multiculturalists, anti-multiculturalists and immigrants themselves is singing "but of course they/we will go home". They won't.)

The worst is when the immigrants themselves believe it (this is mostly a refugee problem). Nothing is quite as annoying as an immigrant who has been in a country for many years and have done nothing to build a new life, learn the language or find a job, but instead keeps saying how he or she will eventually come back home on a white horse (or in a black limouisine). I've known a number of Russians like that, and I still haven't seen any of them ride a white horse on Red Square.

In the US system tends to gently correct those people, unless they are elderly: at some point they notice that the public assistance is about to run out and they still want a lunch every day, so they have to go out and get a job. In the countries with eternal public assistance they can go on about "going home Real Soon Now" forever. At taxpayer's expense, naturally.

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