Friday, March 23, 2007

Immigrants - who are they?

No, I don't know either. This posting is just a list of things to consider when trying to guess who they are and what to expect. Most of then are rather obvious. All of the following is empirical and not scientific, of course.

1. Security problems:

Some groups are inherently a security problem, in the sense that no matter how much you screen them, if you let enough of group X (say, Muslims) into a country you will have a security problem. Will, not might. Generally, if a group is a security problem everywhere else, it will be a security problem here, too.

(This is not a reason to completely close borders for them, IMO. An individual Muslim who has not been suspected of participation in Islamist activities is a very minor security risk, and can often have good reasons to move to a country (spouse, job, etc.), and the benefits of letting them in usually far outweight the risks. But if you want to bring in large groups of workforce it's better to get them somewhere else.)

Also: yes, it's true that for every perfectly decent-looking Muslim immigrant (yeah, I know that your friends - or mine - may be exempt from that, but immigration authorities usually don't have time to know them as well as people usually know their friends) there is a small (but significantly larger than average) risk that either a) they are a closet Islamist, b)they will become a Islamist eventually, or c)they will never become an Islamist, but their children will. This, however, is no reason not to try to filter out people who are already Islamist. You can never be 100% sure that a person is not a security threat, but there are some people about whom you can be 100% sure that they are a security threat. Being persecuted for Islamic extremism in Muslim countries is a rather good sign of it. This is a no-brainer, or should be, but some Western countries have admitted people who were an very odvious security threat.

2. Ethnic/religious minorities:

This should also be obvious, but by taking specific ethnic and/or religious groups from some country you get different results. You get something different depending of whether you get Iraqi Arabs or Iraqi Kurds, Iranian Muslims or Iranian Bahai, Lebanese Muslims or Lebanese Christians, Estonian Estonians or Estonian Russians, Russian Jews or Russian ethnic Finns, etc.

3. Education:

Also an obvious thing. Security problems might well exist in both groups, but immigrants' employment prospects are vastly different depending on whether they are, say, Iraqi engineers or Iraqi goat herders.

(The stereotype of an uneducated third-world immigrant is very strong. It is, of course, based on the fact that most of them are uneducated, but amazingly many people believe that they are all uneducated. I remember when I worked in a store and one of the workers was an older Iraqi man, at some point everyone was totally amazed that he had a university degree in English literature. "They have universities in Iraq?!")

4. Timing:

During an immigration wave different people arrive at a different time. Even if they belong to the same ethnic group and social class. The Russian Jews who went to the US in 1972, in 1978, in 1988, in 1991 and in 1998 were fairly different groups of people, even though they largely knew each other and were related to each other. Timing and structure of immigration waves are a complicated question, but to simplify it grossly: the most dynamic people, the people with the most initiative go first. This might mean that they find jobs easier and faster, or that they make better criminals. The structure of immigration waves tends to depend on the situation in the country of origin, too: if there is a developing crisis, the smartest go first. If there is some ongoing problem, the most decisive go first.

(This, of course, is a vast generalization. There are surely some very intelligent and decisive people leaving Russia even now. But this generalization really does have something to generalize from, in that first there were immigrants who went to the US without any idea how it will turn out, and having never even heard of such a thing as public assistance; then there were immigrants who knew how the system worked and believed they could make it in the US, and then there were immigrants who only wanted to go when they already had enough relatives in the US, etc.)

5. Who are they - in comparison to the rest of the original country's population?

In Finland I often hear the stereotype that there must have been something wrong with the immigrants/refugees back home, or else they would have never come to Finland. This is usually not the case, but sometimes it is.

Sometimes they are persecuted minorities or individuals. Usually persecuted people are persecuted for some reason. Most often this reason makes no sense to anyone except the persecutors (why did the Hutus kill the Tutsis again?) but sometimes, especially in case of individuals, they have been persecuted for a very good reason. Usually, however, they aren't.

Sometimes they are upper- or middle-class. Sometimes they are lower-class. To make another rough generalization, oppressive regimes tend to generate immigrants or refugees who are somewhat higher-class than the general population, countries with very large income discrepancies and a very poor underclass tend to generate lower-class immigrants, and all-out wars usually have pretty much everyone on the run. If you have an oppressive regime with very large income discrepancies and a very poor underclass that has just started an all-out war you will probably actually have to ask who the refugees are.

6. Loyalties

Loyalties vary. It is quite normal for a normal immigrant to have divided loyalties, and not necessarily a bad thing - depends on how well-aligned the interests of the old country and the new country are (Finland+Spain might work better than Finland+Russia). With refugees, the loyalty questions are a lot more complicated: some really have divided loyalties, some are all for the old country, some are all for the new country, and some hate both on general principle.

In general a high level of connection with the old country does not predict much good (I suspect that this is one of the factors of why Russians here are doing worse than in the US). And it's not like any particular act of establishing a connection with the old country is bad in itself - but the desire to do so very often on the part of the whole community is not a very positive predictor for integration.

There are some really strange things that affect loyalties and integration - one of the reasons Russians "bond" with the US better than with Finland is that the US is a big country, and Finland is a small one, and they want to be a part of a big country. I would never have imagined it until I heard so many of them say it.

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