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Addressing migration challenges with an entry fee

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Free movement of people, i.e., the ability of individuals to move freely and without bureaucratic restrictions to the country where they want to live and work, could have a highly beneficial freedom effect and it could easily increase overall welfare. Nevertheless, immigration is met with skepticism and is often severely restricted.

There are no particular reasons for optimism that the underlying causes of high migration flows will diminish. Rather the opposite seems to be happening as more autocratic regimes infested by corruption tend to replace the already limited freedom with more autocracy and control. Certainly, many wish that the need to migrate disappears, that democracy and peace are established in many African and Middle-East countries in which the dreadful image of Thomas Hobbes describing the state of nature as a war of all against all tends to depict the current situation. Many also wish that tolerance, economic and human development will allow people to remain where they had the fortune to be born. However, this is not what we can expect in the next years. Instead, people smugglers will likely keep making profits preying on the faith of the desperate. Already now, trafficking human beings is the third most profitable illegal business worldwide, according to a recent Europol assessment.

Given the risks and costs of migrants from poor countries when relying on people smugglers, the question arises why migrants do not come to Europe by a safe means of transport such as the airplane. While the prices charged by smugglers for an unsafe and all too often fatal journey amount to several thousand euros, air fares from refugee destinations are only a fraction of that. The obvious answer is that immigration restrictions prevent many immigrants from simply using the plane or their preferred means of transport. A safe passage is simply not open to them.

Migrants themselves demand the services of the people smugglers. They consider the chance of improving their lives more important than the potential dangers of an unsafe and expensive trip. If migrants are to be spared from suffering, trafficking must be combated.

Entry fees a way to address migration challenges

An effective way to do combat human trafficking is to offer legal and safe ways of entering Europe. At the same time, citizens of receiving countries must know that they are not going to be literally overrun by migrants. Thus, a proposal to address challenges related to migration must aim at reducing it, while the costs of smuggling must be systematically increased through targeted hard police measures.

At the same time an entry fee is needed. Such an entry fee is to be paid – by all those willing to migrate – before entering Europe. In return for payment of the entry fee, immigrants can enter safely by their preferred means of transport, most likely by plane. Once they are at their destination, they can pursue the same aims that they would have followed, had they entered illegally with people smugglers. Usually, immigrants will simply demand asylum. They can do so after having arrived by plane and having paid the entry fee.

Suppose Europe made immigration from poor countries subject to an entry fee. This would give migrants a legal alternative to reaching Europe. Suppose the entry fee is slightly below the price set by the people smugglers but also puts a small price on the benefits of safe entry. That is, the entry fee is somewhat above the monetary amount that people smugglers charge because it also includes a safe passage to the preferred destination. Such an entry fee would quickly lead to the collapse of demand for people smugglers. At the same time, if the entry fee is set sufficiently high, it would not lead to a situation where the receiving countries are overwhelmed but rather stabilize or – if accompanied by measures against human trafficking – even reduce current migration flows.

If implemented, such an entry fee would have at least seven desirable consequences:

  1. No migrants would die in the Mediterranean during their attempt to reach Europe, because they could use their preferred and safe means of transport if at the same time people smugglers are effectively combatted.

  2. The profits of people smugglers would be driven down. Most, if not all, of them would go out of business. As they often use their profits to finance the purchase of arms, there would be an additional peace dividend in many source countries of migration.

  3. Rule enforcement against illegal immigration could be stricter and harsher because migrants are given a legal means to enter Europe. As a safe and legal passage is open, the fight against traffickers can be intensified without risks to the migrants.

  4. The income generated by the entry fee can be used either to take back migrants who do not have the right to stay in Europe, or, alternatively, it could be used to improve their chances to settle down in Europe by financing language courses or other integration measures.

  5. There would be adequate information about the people who come to Europe, as people who enter legally could be registered in advance when they pay the entry fee.

  6. Migrants would not land helplessly on islands like Lampedusa. Instead, they would go to major cities directly by air travel. They would also distribute more broadly over the continent.

  7. The entry fee also represents a kind of administrative performance claim on the recipient countries to provide migrants with quick decisions regarding asylum. Quicker decisions might help to promote the refugees’ willingness to integrate due to increased certainty regarding their legal status.

In brief, an entry fee for immigration is a comparatively fair and realistic measure to address part of current migration problem. Unlike the current situation, it is more humanitarian and generates some revenue. Current migration restrictions are expensive and exclude genuine asylum seekers. They are also immoral and do not properly address the issue of migration. At the same time, dropping all restrictions to immigration is not a realistic alternative. If people are to be rescued from the dangers of smuggling and the native population is not to be overburdened by mass immigration, an entry fee borne by the immigrants themselves might be a step in the right direction.

The bottom line is: If migration flows are to be controlled, it is better to use the relatively market-oriented approach with an entry fee. Instead of fixing quotas, building walls, making contracts with unreliable autocratic regimes, etc. it is more reasonable and ethical (both from a consequentialist and a deontological perspective), in the current situation, to bring about a control of migration flows by means of our proposed entry fee.

Questions and challenges

Will migrants accept to pay an entry fee? Immigrants will accept to pay an entry fee if the entry fee is not too high. Currently, they pay people smugglers high amounts for a dangerous passage: people coming from some areas located in the Centre-East Africa pay as much as 11.000 Euros for a dangerous journey that cuts through the desert and then Mediterranean Sea. Thus, it is rational for them to pay a similar or even a slightly higher amount for a safe instead of a perilous passage.

Isn’t it morally wrong to make poor people pay for a safe passage? The current migration system leads to many deaths. An entry fee tends to strongly reduce a such deaths. People smugglers are driven out of business and the money they earned is not spent by them for other illegal or harmful activities. Instead, revenues is generated for receiving countries. These revenues from the entry fee could potentially be spent to improve the immigrants’ welfare. For example, to provide them a decent accommodation until a decision about their request of asylum is achieved. Finally, NGOs might help immigrants and finance their safe passage by collecting private contributions. Thus, instead of financing ships to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, NGOs could use the money to help immigrants come safely to Europe.

If an entry fee is taken, is there any obligation towards the immigrants? The entry fee only allows free entry into Europe. Once migrants arrive, they can make an asylum request like they would have done if they had arrived with people smugglers. The asylum process itself remains unaffected. Morally, there might even be pressure in some countries to engage in a quicker administrative assessment of the migrants’ positions and asylum chances due to fact that migrants have paid an entry fee.

Will an entry fee increase overall immigration? It depends. If the entry fee is set too low, immigration flows will increase. The entry fee must then be adjusted upwards. If the entry fee is set too high, some migrants will continue to rely on people smugglers. Thus, the entry fee should be somewhat above the monetary amount that people smugglers charge such that the safe passage is also priced correctly. Then it will not increase overall immigration. This means that the entry fee could also be differentiated according to the migrant’s area of origin.

What if countries want to reduce immigration? A reduction in immigration is possible if the entry fee is increased. However, if it is increased by too much, migrants will rely on people smugglers again. Thus, to reduce overall immigration, the costs for people smugglers must be increased by targeted and hard policing measures with include blocking smugglers’ boats or accompanying them by force to their harbor of origin. It is possible to perform hard policing measures as migrants are given an alternative with the entry fee to the smuggler. Once the costs to people smugglers have increased, the entry fee might be increased too. Thereby, overall immigration can be reduced with an entry fee. As suggested above, hard policing measures are possible against people smugglers without harming migrants as these can pay the entry fee instead of relying on the smugglers.

What if the poorest of the poor cannot pay the entry fee? It is widely known that large financial means are required today to migrate to Europe. Unfortunately, the money currently goes to unscrupulous people smugglers. The poorest usually cannot afford the prices asked by them. If they can marginally afford to pay the smugglers, it is precisely the weakest among them, namely women and children, who are too often in the lower deck of the ramshackle boats.

Photo by Daniel Schludi

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