Should countries have open borders?


Fact Box

  • The oldest border in recorded Western history is the 120 km border in Andorra between France and Spain chartered in 1278.
  • At nearly 9,000 km, the border between the United States and Canada is the longest international border in the world. 
  • As of 2018, 44.7 million foreign-born people were living in America. 
  • Estimates about the number of undocumented immigrants currently living in the US range from 10.5 million to 12 million.  

Stephanie (No)

While the decision for a country to host open borders is up to its leaders, it is arguably a risky approach. The seeming advantages associated with allowing unscreened immigrants into a nation do not outweigh the potential downfalls.

Just considering societal value, individuals crossing open borders have not yet proven what they have to offer a country in terms of skills, let alone demonstrated that they would not burden society by relying on welfare. Australia has a conservative approach to this issue, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming that limiting immigration addresses “protecting the quality of life of Australians.” Anyone choosing to pursue immigration to the country is required to meet specific standards that prove that he or she is healthy, possesses useful skills, is of decent character, and can speak the native language adequately.

Safety-wise, allowing open borders makes it difficult for law enforcement to determine the motives and intentions of migrant individuals and maintain strong national security regarding possible terrorism. Many countries with the strongest immigration policies rank the lowest in terms of crime index, including Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, and Japan.

Financially, the increased supply of workers resulting from immigration negatively affects a country’s economy by lowering wages. In the United States, this has translated to workers with “high school education or less” making less in 2018 than in 1979.

Also important to consider is that mandating strong borders does not mean that immigrants are not welcome into a country, as legal pathways to citizenship may still be accessible to those who have proven their merit.

Finn (Yes)

It may be surprising to learn that open borders were commonplace before WWI, and labor markets determined global migration. Stringent border controls were enacted to restrict people's movement during international conflicts, and they haven't relaxed since. This has contributed to an economic bottleneck that has hampered the potential for greater global prosperity--even in the face of the most prosperous time in human history. 

Closed borders trap people in poorer, less productive countries, preventing them from fulfilling their economic potential. They also create enormous wealth inequalities. A worker in the U.S. earns twice as much as their equivalent in Mexico and 8.5 times more than their counterpart in Nigeria. 

Consequently, by opening borders, workers worldwide would be able to maximize their productivity by moving abroad. Without even acknowledging the moral arguments, it's estimated that this would increase global worldwide product by a not-insignificant $78 trillion. In short, the world would be more prosperous ​for everyone​ if borders opened. 

It is crazy that richer countries spend billions of dollars per year in development aid, but prohibit the world's poor from doing the easiest thing to improve their situation--move to a more productive country.

Yes, it would have to be a managed process, but studies suggest that even a 3% increase in immigration would give the world's poor an extra $300 billion to spend. Goods and services are allowed to move freely between countries, as global trade is widely viewed as economically prosperous. It's time that the movement of people is viewed the same way again. 

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