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Immigration and Regional rights


Image Credit: YouTube grab of Futuristic Inter-galactic spaceport terminal from Men In Black International

I am right now at the Dubai airport watching the eclectic mix of humanity - travellers, visitors and residents - at this ‘meeting point of civilizations and races’ that Dubai has now become. In the last 10 years, Dubai has transformed from an Oil rich destination where people would come to earn bags of money (even if they had to live destitute), to a bustling metropolis where people come to enjoy a good life. Not only has lifestyle transformed in Dubai for the better, but its population has burgeoned from a mere 62000 in 1970 to 3.05 million in 2024 with immigrants powering almost the entire rise in numbers.

Notably, Emiratis currently constitute 7 odd percentage of the total population, and in the next 10 years Dubai is planning to double its population plunging the percentage of natives to 3 and half percent only! However, immigrants are not allowed to gain citizenship of the country irrespective of the number of years they stay. Unlike most other countries where a long term stay makes you eligible to apply for citizenship – most Gulf region countries, UAE included, never grant citizenship to immigrants or their offspring (even if the offspring is born in UAE!). This got me thinking about historical immigration and its impact in past, versus today’s post-globalization rules for immigration.

Immigration rules get most flak in context of G7 countries, especially the developed West – US, Canada, Western Europe. Whether it’s a new boat of Syrian refugees being sent back from shores of Italy, Spain or Germany; of waves of Mexican ‘illegal’ border trespassers denied entry into the US, proponents of “humane immigration policies” routinely criticize restrictive policies of the West. However, the strict immigration rules and uncompromising citizenship rules of the Gulf region are usually left scot-free event when there are bloody conflicts raging in the region, which can be solved by allowing refugees from conflict ridden zones to migrate to the ‘developed’ (Oil rich?) neighbours towards the East.

[One becomes more painfully conscious of this in today’s world where Gaza residents are being bombed and killed in their own homes by a revenge-seeking neighbour. The recently passed and politically debated Citizenship Amendment Act in India which grants accelerated citizenship to refugees of certain religions – considered as religious minorities – excluding Muslims, is also a case in point in this context.]

The economic position enjoyed by the prosperous Arabian Peninsula today is very similar to the resource rich position enjoyed by India between 1000-1700 AD. This was long before the discovery of Oil in the Arabian Peninsula, and also long before industrialization and mechanized transportation made Oil a resource as valuable as gems and gold. Stories of India’s prosperity had spread via the Arabs to Europe and Britain – it was these stories which heralded several missions from the likes of Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus, and Vasco-Da-Gama, who were given royal decrees to find a sea route to reach the mythical prosperous land of India.

Just like residents of Indian subcontinent1 today are flocking to the Gulf region to earn an extra buck, but also to live a better lifestyle, residents from Mongol, Arab and European regions, flocked to India in the mediaeval period for trade, but also seeking employment, occupation and residency. Several dynasties of rulers including the Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Adilshahis, and Ghurids, came to India not just for its wealth (and go back), but more so, to settle down in this land and enjoy the comfort of living in this Subcontinent blessed with good weather, abundant natural resources and opportunities of making wealth. Hardly any immigrant race which came to India until the 1700s went back entirely to their native regions. Almost every ethnicity, either as entire tribes and families, or at least a part of the tribe, settled in India permanently.

I am sidestepping the debate on the intent of the 'immigrants'. India’s prosperity attracted both – plunderers and settlers. While some of them came to loot, some others came to seek a living in India. For the remainder of this essay, I am going to use the term ‘settler’ as a neutral term to mean both settlers who came with benign intentions such as trade or employment, or those who may have come with ill intentions of looting and plundering.

In that age of pre-globalized world, when there were no international accords or globally accepted treaties or normative systems to address immigration rules, many of these settlers (in whichever form they came), were allowed to settle in this land and share its wealth and prosperity with the original residents of this land. For those who believe in the theory of Aryan migration, even the Aryans came in as settlers, way back in 2000 BCE, and not only settled but also intermingled with the native population of India. Irrespective of your beliefs and your position of whether the immigrants until the 18th century were rustlers or mere settlers, no one can deny the fact that the natural order of standards back then, permitted them to settle in without any ‘restrictive rules’ of being sent back to their own ‘native lands’ after the ‘purpose of their visit’ was over.

I find that system to be fair, if not for a first-generation settler but at least for all their offspring who were born and brought up in the Indian region itself. Just like a second-generation Indian American is more American in their outlook, lifestyle and beliefs than Indian; similarly a second generation Pathan settled in Bhopal was as Indian as a Dravidian Shankarcharya disciple settled in Srinagar. And so, I come to questioning the legitimacy of present day citizenship rules in the Gulf region which does not acknowledge either birth or long term residency as a basis for granting citizenship to settlers.

Notably, there are many other forces which are shaping the world of tomorrow to be more homogenous where one-humanity will settle across the globe without any racial or ethnic boundaries or restrictions. Globalization and its effects is making work completely fungible – remote work is a norm and increasing number of services can be provided while the workers are sitting anywhere, in any country. Knowledge workers are migrating to places where they want to live (rather than where their employers are located) and seeking employment as per their qualifications irrespective of citizenship restrictions. Bitcoin and other cypto-currencies are making global finance more fluid and seamless – its ever easier to move money from one part of the world to another, while complying with laws, regulations and keeping safety in mind. Integrated Supply chains are also making it possible to manufacture products with raw materials sourced from across the globe. In fact, the combination of core competency and supply chain integration means that few products can be manufactured completely within one country or region – most products require dependence on other regions.

In this milieu, we need uniform immigration and citizenship grant rules across the world. Countries should not be allowed to prevent second-generation settlers who were born and brought up in the geography from gaining citizenship. We also need to have uniform laws governing rights of immigrant workers in every country, including the amount of time it would take for them to apply for citizenship. If we do not do this, then immigration laws will be in opposition to forces of globalization. While globalization will push people to migrate to geographies of their choice based on the lifestyle they seek, immigration laws will prevent them from getting their rights as citizens or long-term residents in that region. It will create an imbalance of availability of resources and their consumption patterns. Such an imbalance could lead to a hyperbole of early issues we're noticing in refugee crisis.

If we seek an egalitarian free world where humanity as a whole will migrate from the Earth to Mars, we need better ways to integrate humanity into one cohesive race of people than those divided by artificial and disparate immigration laws.

1-  Residents of Indian subcontinent is used as a term to refer to people of the entire subcontinent covering countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan


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