Open borders immigration involves the free movement of goods and people between national jurisdictions without restrictions on their activity. It may be open because of a lack of legal controls, funding, or international legislation that allows for de jure. The Schengen Agreement in Europe is one of the best examples of this process, with European borders often marked with a simple sign, no customs controls, and no passport check.
People can choose to immigrate in an open borders situation wherever they wish in their destination country. The impact is similar to what Americans experience when they choose to live in a different state. After they take care of their administrative responsibilities, obtain licenses, and secure housing, their household becomes another member of that community.
Although there are critics who believe open borders immigration creates security concerns and additional local disadvantages, pervasive controls at international borders is relatively new. World War I became the point when these controls became common. Even before the 1880s, immigration to the United States was not fully controlled.
List of the Pros of Open Borders Immigration
1. It would eliminate the costs of immigration control at national borders.
The United States spends over $18 billion per year enforcing immigration laws at its borders. A majority of this expense occurs at the southern border with Mexico, although there are checkpoints at all international airports, the Canadian border, and in U.S. territories. Having open borders immigration would free up that money since there would no longer be a need for a wall or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
If everyone were allowed to go to whatever country they preferred, then there wouldn’t be issues with family separations. Deportations would become minimal. Even the Border Patrol would see a reduction in the scope of their duties, transitioning to a true patrolling duty to maintain law and order.
2. Open borders would create temporary immigration opportunities.
Having an open border would make it easier for families to improve their lifestyle and livelihood in a variety of ways. Parents could bring their children to a new country so that they could go to school. You could receive the medical care you need, a better job, or a variety of additional benefits that aren’t available in their home country. The theory of this advantage is that people would come for a few years, accomplish what they need to do, and then move back with their family and friends.
3. It would improve the flow of immigrants to each country.
The idea behind the open borders concept is that the countries would only want to send the “best” people to live elsewhere. Restrictive laws reduce the advantages that wealthier or more educated households experience by moving away from home. The time and cost to complete the paperwork and follow the set of processes become burdensome. That’s why more illegal immigration comes from Mexico. If you don’t care about following the admin costs, then coming right over creates a risk-reward equation that is worth considering for many families.
4. Having open borders would help to diversify local economies.
Immigrants bring new ideas, experiences, and perspectives to their new communities. With this added diversification, there is more strength to be found within the community. Immigrants start businesses, earn an income, and support others on the local level. The availability of open borders creates an increase in domestic production, creating more profits that work to help the economy. Healthy economies based on immigrant perspectives tend to find the most advancement opportunities.
Immigrants already raise the GDP even when there aren’t open borders to support their activities. The total value of their work in the United States is over $70 billion annually. Even if we remove the annual cost of enforcement, that would give a 0.1% economic boost to everyone.
5. Open borders help to increase the population base for communities and economies.
About 800,000 people become naturalized citizens of the United States every year. The legalized immigration process allows this to happen with the current restrictions at the border. If those stoppages were disallowed to create open movement, then more people would have an opportunity to select citizenship or permanent residency for themselves.
Although there could be security issues to manage with this process, the result of having open borders would be more diversity in each community. With access to more perspectives and experiences, it becomes easier to innovate at every level of the business spectrum.
6. It would encourage more development around the world.
The number of countries that have gone through a formal Industrial Revolution is counted at less than 40. Current income levels around the world are less than $2 per day in many countries. If we were to allow open borders, then it would force the governments in the developing world to dedicate more resources to domestic improvements. If people have a chance to live in a yurt to barely scrape by or a chance to build a modern life for their family, most people are going to choose the second option.
7. Higher levels of immigration create lower levels of crime.
Immigrants are under-represented in almost every relevant statistic about crime collected in the developed world. Even in places where illegal immigration is considered a severe problem, the people who cross a border without permission aren’t the ones causing a majority of the felonious acts that occur. Texas estimates that approximately 6% of their total population involves illegal immigrants, but they are less than 5% of the prison community. When you compare the actions of people with natural citizenship to those without it, the rate of crime for the latter group is about 70% less.
8. Immigration eliminates the employment gaps that exist in each economy.
In low-skill employment areas, the strong presence of immigrants may indeed depress wages. If we take a look at this issue from a comprehensive labor market viewpoint, this advance shows that open borders immigration helps to fill in the recesses that form when low unemployment rates exist.
Immigrants allow communities to remove employment bottlenecks. They reduce the risk of productivity issues happening at the local level. That means when the income levels of newcomers rise, so do the wages of every other household.
9. Open borders immigration could reduce retail prices for consumers.
Immigrants are not the only households that benefit when migration occurs to a specific community. Every employee gains an advantage because of the laws of supply and demand. Executives, lawyers, and translators all have new possibilities available to them that they may not have had otherwise because there are more people available to e goods.
As the demand levels rise or new workers, the prices begin to fall for the goods and services in the marketplace. That means everyone gets to profit from the lower costs.
10. Open borders would reduce immigrant exploitation issues.
When people immigrate illegally to a country, then they become part of a vulnerable population group. Individuals can exploit these families because there is no safety net for them. Examples from the United States include refusing to pay someone their salary, filing false charges with the police, or committing physical abuse.
Even if someone is in a country legally, the threat of calling a department like ICE can create hardships for people. An American citizen was detained for over three weeks being suspected of illegal immigration before being eventually released to his mother. Having an open borders policy would eliminate many of these issues.
List of the Cons of Open Borders Immigration
1. It could reduce the skill of immigrants coming to a new country.
Having an open border might encourage wealthier families to move to a new country to pursue opportunities, but the opposite could also happen. People with fewer skills and resources might be more tempted to build a life in a different nation because there’s nothing tying them to their current home. There are educated and skilled immigrants already choosing to remain in their homeland rather than immigrate now even though they have the resources available to move already.
2. Open borders could make more people eligible for government assistance.
Immigrants with fewer skills are already entering countries around the world. If there were open borders, it would only increase the flow of movement because there wouldn’t be any obstacles in place. That means there would be more people eligible for government assistance schemes and programs, bogging down the economics of the entire society because the Middle Class and above are forced to subsidize the new living arrangements in that scenario. It would create burdens that could be a challenge to manage if a family is already struggling to scrape by on what they currently earn.
3. It would increase competition for available employment opportunities.
When people can move across an international border without restriction to live somewhere new, then it creates a broader set of potential applicants for employers to evaluate. That means the added competition for open jobs could reduce the opportunities for people in their home country. Since there is more availability and the potential of individuals being willing to work for lower wages, it could reduce the standard of living in some communities.
4. Open borders immigration could create over-population problems.
The developed nations of the world would become the primary target for immigration opportunities if open borders become a reality. Over-population issues would occur immediately with this movement as there would be a scramble to be the first families in the new economy. The home nations would begin to see problems with worker supply, creating a set of supply problems for the import-export market eventually.
We got a glimpse of this issue in 2017 when 2.2 million people sought asylum throughout Europe. It was the biggest refugee wave to hit the continent since World War II. The political fallout from that movement created xenophobia and populism that still impacts society today.
5. Some families may struggle to integrate into their new surroundings.
Diversity can make us stronger as humans, but not everyone is willing to embrace that concept. Having new cultures, perspectives, or traditions in an established area can cause tension. This disadvantage is fueled by fear since we’re naturally cautious around people we don’t know. If there are more neighbors around that took advantage of an open borders policy than the people we grew up around, then it can feel like a loss of identity occurs.
Families become wary that something will go awry in these circumstances. There might be proactive calls to law enforcement, more security monitoring, and adverse personal reactions with each other under the guise that everyone is trying to stop trouble from happening.
6. Open borders immigration would still cause families to split up.
Even if there are no restrictions in place with open borders immigration, families can’t move to another country for free. There must be some amount of resources available to them so that they can establish a new home. That means many of the elements of illegal immigration are still going to be happening in the developed countries around the world. Families will split up to support themselves, creating homeland gaps in availability that could lower the quality of services available.
The end result of an open borders effort could be a reduction of opportunities and a lower standard of living for everyone.
7. Immigration from desperation does not guarantee results.
There are times when open borders immigration makes sense to implement. When families have an opportunity to follow their jobs without restriction, then local economies benefit. The problem that all immigration opportunities face is the attitude of desperation that people face. Households look at what might be if they can make it to a different country, see that chasing a dream there is better than their current reality, and then they decide to take a leap of faith.
The only problem with that leap is that some people are going to fall. Open borders would create significant stress points on the social services of a country in that situation, creating adverse income and taxation impacts that could make life worse instead of better for many people.
The presence of open borders makes it easier to buy and sell goods and services. People can immigrate to new countries as a way to chase employment, start a new life, or climb out of poverty.
There are economic stimulus benefits to consider with the open borders approach. We also have security concerns that are relevant, and they must be taken into consideration.
The pros and cons of open borders immigration depend on what each country and community require for growth. There are several success stories to review, such as New Zealand and Australia, Ireland and the UK, and most of Europe. If we can control the adverse components of this approach, then the positives may be worth the risk on a more global perspective.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.