A Call For An Open Island

Open borders someday, but small changes now

From my new favorite comic, Open Borders

Until recently Sri Lanka only had citizenship by dick. You could only be a citizen if your father was. Our citizenship policy was sexist and, of course, racist as well. If your father or grandfather was born in Sri Lanka before 1948 you’re in. If they weren’t (as was with nearly a million Indian Tamils) you were out. These people were rendered stateless — a tragic shame. This racism and cruelty is our continued curse.

Nationalism is racism, as the world will begin to acknowledge in 10 years. Closed borders limit human freedom and the natural development of human economies and culture.

For an island like ours, shutting off from the world is slow strangulation. Without new people and new ideas we are just stuck with the gene pool of 100 years ago, which wasn’t that great. Because other countries do have immigration policies we have a brain drain with no inlet valve. It only goes one way. Out.

We talk about economic growth, but an economy is people. We simply don’t have the human resources. Sri Lanka is not going to change until we have a sane immigration policy.

The only ethical policy is completely open borders, but we’re obviously not there yet. We can’t even see the cruel apartheid we live in, just as people couldn’t see the cruelty and waste of feudalism for centuries. We are stuck in history like everyone else.

Sri Lanka needs baby steps. First is dual citizenship to stop the bleeding. The next is easy immigration to begin growth.

Dual Citizenship

We have two main candidates for President and two very different polices.

Gota’s dual citizenship policy is to fake his own documents and ban it for everyone else. This isn’t really a policy so we won’t go there.

Sajith on the other hand has a dual citizenship policy. He proposes

  1. A simplified online application for dual citizenship
  2. Overseas Citizen Of Sri Lanka status for all people of Sri Lankan heritage
  3. Dual citizenship for spouses after three years

This is a good start.

I came back from Canada and became a dual citizen, and it was a huge and expensive pain. It took years, lakhs and was a unreliable and strange process. My wife is still going through this process, for over five years now because Gota messed it up.

We should be attracting talent, not repelling it. Dual citizenship as a category should be much, much easier.

OCSL (like India’s OCI program) should be easier still, and accessible to more people.

The spousal thing is just a matter of justice. I know a family where the Sri Lankan father died and the mother can only get a visa through her children. She’s lucky they are adults, God forbid a spouse dies young. Then the mother /father would just get deported.

This spousal issue prevents many people from coming back, because their usually talented husbands/wives can’t be secure here. They should be.

Easy Immigration

Sri Lankans love talking about being the next Singapore. That’s the benchmark, but we don’t look very closely at it. Immigrating to or working in Singapore is really easy (though they do not offer dual).

Sri Lanka should be open to talent, and I reject they idea of ‘unskilled’ labor at all. This is just classist and economically wrong.

I have dealt with plumbing intimately and I don’t see how this or any other ‘manual’ labor is unskilled. Building things, caring for children and old people, moving goods and services — we somehow classify the most important things in life as unskilled while PR agents and consultants are ‘talent’. I’d honestly rather have a good plumber.

My idea of immigration goes further than points-based residence visas and stuff like that. Just let anyone in. Many of the great entrepreneurial familes the world over, including Sri Lanka, just got off boats. They wouldn’t have gotten in under current systems.

This is a call for open borders. Refugees, ‘skilled’ workers, ‘unskilled’ workers, whatever. An open island. As we were for thousands of years. If Mahinda Thera tried to arrive here today the GMOA would protest and we wouldn’t have Buddhism. We could be a beacon to the world, and a hotbed of talent, which doesn’t just come from the already privileged.

It’s All People

The fact is that an economy isn’t infrastructure or stuff. It’s people. Having run a company for seven years this is what I learned. It’s all people.

It is not possible for Sri Lanka to be globally competitive without global talent. The only closed-off countries that are competitive are India and China, and they each have a billion plus and massive internal migration to cities. We are trying to start a car without an engine. The engine is people. The engine is migration.

We shouldn’t have citizenship by dick, or dickishness. We should be an open island, a growing island, and thus a prosperous one.