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COVID-19 and the Future of Immigration

Travel in most areas of the world has been temporarily restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, immigration has significantly slowed. For example, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) temporary closed all Application Support Centers, and nonessential travel between U.S. and Mexico has been halted. The U.S. and Canada have also mutually agreed to close their shared border to nonessential travel. This has greatly complicated the already-complicated process of international travel, and regulations related to immigration rules, visas, and ESTA are still changing frequently.

What does this mean for the future of immigration? And what kind of impact could that have?

The Impact of Immigration

Immigration affects a given country in many ways:

  • Population diversity. Population diversity benefits countries in many ways. The free exchange of divergent cultural ideas and norms leads to more innovative thinking, more ingenuity, and a better understanding of populations around the world.

  • Targeted population growth. Immigrants often gravitate toward specific areas, due to economic opportunities or because of resource limitations. Accordingly, immigration is often responsible for supporting population growth and other forms of development in underutilized areas of a given country.

  • Entrepreneurship and economic development. Immigrants are 20 percent more likely to start a small business than a native born person in the United States, and often immigrate in search of economic opportunities. In countries with free markets and available opportunities for entrepreneurship, immigration leads to faster and more robust economic growth.

  • Refuge and safety. Some people want to live in a different country to escape oppression, tyranny, or danger in their home country. Open immigration and acceptance of refugees allows a greater percentage of the world population to find safe places to live.

  • Better international relations. Immigration also leads to better international relations. Accepting immigrants from other countries can help a country stay on good terms, internationally. Building up a more diverse population can also lead to a better understanding of other countries’ views and cultures.

Of course, there are some downsides to immigration as well. Monocultures and homogenous populations in countries with restricted immigration enjoy some benefits that countries with lax immigration policies can’t replicate.

That said, immigration is largely positive, economically and socially, on a global scale as well as for individual countries. The temporarily increased immigration restrictions is likely influencing some large-scale negative impact.

So where does it go from here?

The Return to Normalcy?

One vision for the post-pandemic future is a gradual return to normalcy. The general plan, from the outset, has been to temporarily invoke closures and restrictions, then gradually reopen in a phased approach. If followed precisely, this would mean gradually reopening international borders and an eventual return to “normalcy.”

However, the return to normalcy has proven to be more difficult than originally anticipated. In states like Texas and Florida, bars and restaurants were tentatively reopened, only to close down a few weeks later in response to increasing infection rates. If this is the case, immigration could be halted for a much longer period of time than originally thought.

Permanent Changes

There’s also a case to be made that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to some major changes in immigration activity. Some people may be more reluctant to travel internationally in the wake of such a threat. The total number of people interested in immigrating, worldwide, may suffer a small decline.

Additionally, the reputation of specific countries may be changing, either enticing more immigrants or steering them away; countries with robust healthcare programs and a mature, directed response to the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly be more attractive than those with high death rates and minimal healthcare for their citizens.

Better Systems

With the understanding of how much a pandemic can disrupt “normal” systems, national agencies around the world may attempt to rework their immigration policies, aiming to create a better, more streamlined system. Rather than relying on extensive in-person checks and long, bureaucratic documentation processes, immigration could benefit from a mostly digital, easy-to-follow approach.

Facing Uncertainty

It’s hard to say exactly how immigration will change long-term in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because it’s still uncertain how immigration policies will evolve in the coming months. However, we know that immigration is an important feature of countries around the world and right now, it’s heavily restricted.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes

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