Kathmandu:

A few months ago my secretary Sandra and her husband applied for a visa to go to the US. Her daughter is a student in the US and Sandra longed to spend time with her. Their visa application was rejected. Now, her son has also gone on a student’s visa to the US. These days if there is anything Sandra wants – more than anything else she has ever wanted – it is an opportunity to spend time with her children. The power to make Sandra happy lies with the officers of the US government at the American embassy. Are they going to listen to her pleas this time around when they ignored it the last time? Who knows? Some get the coveted visa stamped on their passport, most don’t.

For the officials at the embassy it’s just another day’s work; a job which needs to be done. Do they even realise the severe impact of their actions on Sandra’s life and the life of many more people like her who queue up daily to apply for visas? Unfortunately, most are going to be disappointed. Is there any justification for keeping people out from a country? There is, if the person seeking entry is a potential terrorist. Beyond this, there is hardly any justification for limiting the freedom of people to move. The Cato institute in Washington DC and other organisations have done extensive research on the effects of immigration into the US. Their conclusion is unambiguous. America has gained and continues to gain by immigration. Had there been no migration to the US, then, it would have remained a sparsely populated country of the native Red Indians dependent on land and hunting for survival. Would America have been the super power that it is today? No.

Does America need to keep out potential job seekers, travelling in the guise of tourists? Do foreigners displace local workers and cause unemployment?

The answer is clear. And it is no. Immigrants may take up jobs but they demand goods for consumption too, and that generates employment. When an immigrant buys goods with the money he earns, he raises economic activity and contributes to employment. What if he sends dollars abroad to his family? This enables foreigners to buy American goods and services and to travel to America. America’s exports and earnings from tourism increase and again employment opportunities are enhanced for US residents. Immigration does not result in unemployment. That is the reason why America with its relatively liberal immigration policies – relative that is to European countries – has lower unemployment at five per cent, while the closed-to-immigration countries of continental Europe have unemployment of over twice as much. Another example is Hong Kong. This speck on the world map, despite a huge influx of migrants from mainland China, suffered no unemployment. From 1945 to 1987, even as Hong Kong’s population multiplied from 0.7 million to 5.6 million – a compounded annual increase of 5.08 per cent – it rose from a squalid fishing village to become the centre of world’s trade and finance. Its people who were starving in the 40’s became wealthier than those who lived in the UK, Australia or Canada by the 80’s.

Clearly, when immigration did no harm to a dot like Hong Kong with the more than 6000 persons living in each of its square kilometres, then, how can the US with just 30 person occupying each of its square kilometres be hurt?

America’s birth rate is low. Its population is ageing. It needs more people. More people are required for its factories, hospitals, hotels, software industry, retail establishments and for everything else. US is rich in capital but poor in human resources. Nepal has people but lacks capital. Transfer of people to the US and capital to Nepal would make eminent sense. It is ironic and heart-rending that America restricts entry of people, and Nepal restricts capital from flowing in.

Free the movement of people and capital and both countries will gain.

Will the governments listen?

Will Sandra get lucky the next time around and get a visa?

(The writer can be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)