There’s No Moral Difference between a Wall and a Migrant Visa

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A mural of U.S. President Donald Trump is displayed on the side of a home on January 27, 2017 in Tijuana, Mexico. U.S. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A large portion of the world’s population lives in conditions that are hard to fathom for people in developed countries. Many of those living in extreme poverty would gladly move to the United States, the European Union or Australia if given a chance. In light of this, how should rich countries design and enforce their immigration policies?

The figures for world poverty are staggering. According to the latest estimates from the World Bank, some 2.1 billion people live on less than $3.10 a day, adjusting for purchasing power. This means that, in their respective countries, they have only what $3.10 would buy them in the US.

It is hard to imagine living, even in the least expensive locales in the US, on $3.10 a day. What could you eat? Beans and rice bought wholesale maybe. You might get to buy some clothing once a year. You certainly wouldn’t be able to afford rent – you’d have to squat somewhere. Compare that with the US poverty line of $24,000 a year for a family of four. That ends up being more than $16 per day per person. Poverty lines in the EU set a relatively high bar too; in Germany, the figure comes out to about 22,500 a year (c$25,000) for a family of four.

Life is much, much better in the US or Germany than in many parts of the world, even for these countries’ poorest inhabitants. And it’s not just a matter of income – developed countries offer a much better life in terms of free schooling, infrastructure and the like, compared with Ethiopia or Bangladesh.

Now imagine you are one of those 2.1 billion people. Let’s say you live in Ethiopia, on less than $3.10 a day. Would you want to move to the US or the EU if given a chance? Of course, it would be irrational not to. You’d achieve a much better standard of living, even if you worked at a minimum-wage job. Your children would gain access to vastly better schooling and would not have to work to support the family. You would not have to worry constantly about having enough food to eat.

Local city officials visit prototypes of US President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall on November 1, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

But migrating to the rich world is not so simple for you. For instance, in order to move to the US permanently through legal means, you need to get a work visa or a permanent residence visa. And, for that, you need to have family in the US (though, depending on the relation, this option can take more than a decade), or be working in a high-skill occupation with an offer of employment, or just luck out via the Diversity Visa Lottery system. There are other ways, but they require applicants to have been in extremely specific circumstances – for instance, there is a permanent visa for translators who worked for…

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