Random Thoughts on the Myth of Immigrants

Content note: This is not going to be tremendously coherent, a lot of it is thinking with my fingers.

Sometime after working out a preliminary typology of people who move to other countries to live a thought occurred to me. Namely, the idea of immigration (in my typology) is profoundly weird which is maybe why there are almost no immigrants in the world today according to that typology. Now I’m thinking of renaming the term in my typology and never using the word ‘immigrant’ again because it’s become a word that hinders honest conversation on migration rather than helping it.

This is why I think “skills based immigration” is not a good foundation for policy except maybe for English speaking countries for the very good reason that skills based people usually speak English as a first or second language and no matter whether it is a first or second language most of them will, consciously or not, bitterly resent the need to learn some other language and will avoid doing so. They often invent reasons why they couldn’t (They made fun of me! They’re not friendly! Everyone I know already speaks English! I don’t know how long I’ll be here!). All these are essentially that the people in question are expats and not liable to be an asset to the country in the long term, it might be okay to bring them in for the short term financial benefits but they won’t join the local society and may take steps to prevent their children from doing so as well.

To be clear, what by ‘join the new society’ I mean, among other things, to take active steps to prioritize the acquisition of the local language and culture (including meta-religious practices) by their children over the parents’ original culture and discontinuing and/or discouraging as many cultural practices from their home cultures as possible (at least in the public sphere).

What makes much more sense is language and culture based immigration. At present there are probably over a million citizens of Ukraine in Poland and it’s a fair guess to say that a non-trivial percentage will be here more or less permanently and this hardly causes any problems for most people and the main reason is language and culture. Ukrainian and Polish are first cousins and even if a Ukrainian mostly speaks Russian (a second cousin once removed from Polish) they will have had Ukrainian in school and reaching functioning everyday level of Polish requires little effort (though the accent remains distinctive). There are some cultural differences stemming from the Orthodox and Soviet past of Ukraine as opposed to the Roman Catholic and non-Soviet Polish past of Poland but even these mostly fall within the Polish range of variation and the conflicts that arise are mostly of the type that arise among Poles by themselves.

More broadly, I think it’s worth thinking about what might be called ‘affinity based’ immigration. Vietnamese people don’t have much in common with Polish culture or history (besides their different experiences as Soviet satellites) but they’ve always assimilated extremely well. By way of contrast, Middle Eastern and North African migration to Europe is marked by pretty uniform rejection of the local cultures and the very clear intention to not adopt European ways in any sphere of life where they can avoid it. There are some individual exceptions but again you don’t make successful large scale policy based on exceptions.

This little video is revealing, the ‘immigrant’ (or ‘immigration background’) men fully understand traditional French coffee shop culture and they consciously reject it and want to replace it with sex segregation in social life and there’s probably no chance of them ever changing their minds about that and they will do what they can to make sure their children have North African and not French values after all. In my taxonomy they’re not immigrants in any real sense they’re colonists and/or pioneers expanding their preferred model of society northward.

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