The title Shifting Borders refers to the growing reality that the receiving states that migrants hope to reach move their borders in administrative ways that allow them to reject or even ignore asylum claims, and/or approve applications from ‘desirable’ migrants. How do Western states shift their borders to lessen their migration responsibilities and implement their migration priorities?
It’s a real puzzle, because mobility has become the expected norm when it comes to the movements of goods, ideas, services, and capital. But the mobility of human beings still remains tightly regulated – indeed, states grow ever more selective. The same country may open and close its borders simultaneously to different migrant groups. This breaches our idea of equality, all the more so because the most legally protected categories – asylum seekers, refugees, family reunification – are the ones who most feel the brunt of the shifting border.
In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall led many to predict that barbed wires and closed gates would become relics of a bygone era. Today, we face a different reality. More than seventy new border fences have been completed around the world, but there has also been a surge of shifting borders – the topic of my book. These invisible borders rely on sophisticated legal techniques to detach migration control functions from a fixed territorial location. Border activities are no longer collinear with the lines on the map or the frontiers of a nation, but instead take place thousands of kilometers away at preclearance centers, in transit countries, or through remote biometric surveillance of our bodies and movements. This is part of a strategy that strives, as official government policy documents explain, to “push the border out” as far away from the territorial border as possible. This concept, enthusiastically embraced by governments worldwide, involves screening people at the origin of their journey – not the destination – and then again at every possible checkpoint along the way. The traditional static border is thus reimagined as the last point of encounter, not the first.
I give a lot of examples in the book. The EU border now basically starts in Africa, because the control of mobility is pushed to the country of origin. Canada relies heavily on the technique of interdiction abroad: while a final admission decision occurs once you land in Canada, your documents are reviewed long before you reach the territory, because Canada has relocated much of its immigration regulation activities to overseas gateways, located primarily in Europe and Asia, where migration integrity officers or liaison officers (as they are known) now conduct border control activities as a matter of course, and also delegate this work to third party private actors, such as airline personnel. Australia, which on many fronts has a generous asylum-seeking and refugee protection regime, has constructed what is called excision policy – which basically means that, although a claimant’s physical body is on Australian land, legally they have never arrived. There are some parts of Australia where you reach Australia but you've never reached Australia! These examples are important because they set precedent. The U.K. parliament has gone as far as to formally debate an excision policy, and proponents argue “well, Australia did it. You can't say this is a country that doesn't follow the rule of law, democracy, rights protections. Why can't we do it?”
In the book, I also talk about family reunification – a legal category which, at least formally, states are obliged to respect. But when the EU directive for family reunification was introduced, some member states insisted on also introducing the notion of cultural integration – so family members seeking to arrive in certain European countries under family reunification have to ‘prove’ cultural integration… before they even arrive! This is another example of a border shifting. We’re seeing the process move back in time and in space – it happens before anyone crosses a static border or joins the country.
At the same time, this notion of territory and where migration happens – which is so important for one category – disappears for another. The super-rich can migrate without cultural or linguistic requirements, and with no family members they seek to join. They just have to invest a very hefty sum, and that becomes their entry ticket. For instance, the price tag for access to European citizenship ranges between €1 to €2 million. The U.K.’s “golden visa” program, which grants residency rights in exchange for an investment of at least £2 million, has long been subject to critique. The U.K. government has just announced that it will scrap the program as part of the sanctions against Russia and the crackdown on illicit funds (more than 2,500 Russian millionaires have benefited from this fast track).
So, we have a real moving target, where migration policy can operate as a barrier or as an accelerator. It is crucial that we decipher it. With the removal of explicit racial and national origin barriers to admission, which only occurred in the 1960s in Canada, Australia and the United States, the migration policies of the second half of the 20th century were formally committed to non-discrimination, equality and fairness. But now, in the early 21st century, while they operate under the veneer of equality they are often, in effect, replicating or creating very sophisticated inequalities.