This blog is not noted for sympathy for politicians, but it
is hard not to feel sorry for legislators tasked with reconciling the
irreconcilable on immigration: they must not only strike a very delicate
balance on policy but must then cement that delicate balance in a general law
that, by the very nature of law, must apply fairly inflexibly in all cases.
Western statesmen are terrified, with good reason, by the
prospect of a flood of economic refugees from failed or failing states,
prompting their own voters to complain, rightly or wrongly, about immigrants
“stealing our jobs”.
At the same time, all but the very dimmest – who are usually
to be found on the extremes of the political left and right – accept that it is
in their national interest for their respective countries to attract
entrepreneurs from abroad. These people, far from “stealing jobs”, generate
employment and wealth for themselves and those among whom they live.
However, in practice, it is very difficult to identify such
desirable immigrants and separate them from the less desirable.
For example, the United States has long had a policy of
granting visas to those with money to invest who buy an exisiting business, but
this is a blunt instrument. One of its major failing is that it discriminates
not on talent or initiate but whether your home country offers a reciprocal arrangement.
This is not good business.
Its lack of success has led to many demands for reform. The latest, from
Senators Kerry and Lugar, is an initiative those starting up new ventures, as
opposed to buying existing operations, can get a visa. Instead of restricting eligibility
to country of origin it will be controlled by cash raised from VCs.
Broadly, this is the sort of pro-entrepreneurial initiative
we favour, especially as it encourages people keen on making many as opposed to
those who already have it. However, this new system, though an improvement, is
not without its faults.
It is not that difficult to put a lump of cash in a bank
account and claim to be an entrepreneur. Indeed, the easiest way to do it is to
obtain the money illegally, or at least dishonestly.
A genuine entrepreneur may not, in fact, have much cash in
hand: his real asset is his initiative. It is his desire to make money that
drives him to build his business – and adds wealth to the economy in which he
So perhaps the best immigration policy is not a wealth test
but an initiative test.
Entrepreneurs have always been mobile, even before modern
transport and the global economy. Merchants pioneered trade routes long before
the explorers and armies sent by kings. Being one step ahead of the state is
part of our job description. Where there is a market, we will find a way in.
One way or another, we will find a way around regulations intended to keep us
out. So the tougher the immigration law, the greater the challenge – and the
higher the calibre of the entrepreneurs who will overcome it.