Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Visa barrier to EU ineffective?

It is worth checking out these figures recently published by Reuters about illegal workers and remittances:

The remittances as percentage of GDP statistics are interesting from the point of view of countries which do and don't have visa free access to Western Europe. I am intrigued that the statistics for Ukraine don't look markedly different to those for Romania and Bulgaria, who of course have the free right to travel in the EU, but in theory not to work. That the percentage of GDP for remittances in Ukraine grew last year just as more Ukrainians returned home is simply evidence of how much the Ukrainian economy at home has shrunk. Many of the Romanians and Bulgarians working abroad went there years ago, when travel restrictions were still in place. Are we to understand that the reason the Ukrainian levels for 2007 and 2008 were similar to those for Romania and Bulgaria and not higher is the 'successful' barring of Ukrainians from travelling to the EU? The EU's restrictive visa policies frequently prevent Ukrainians from visiting friends, partners or taking holidays.
Are we to believe that, without these restrictions, they would be as high as they are for Albania, Bosnia or Serbia? This doesn't seem convincing to me. The latter three countries also had visa restrictions on them in the three preceding years, and two of them still do, and they still manage to travel and find this work despite this. So it seems that harder visa policies do very little to keep out those that want to work abroad illegally, and instead damage trade in business, tourism and the maintainance of family, friendship and personal relationships for both sides. 'Strong borders' might be a popular political move but, within Europe, they don't seem to make sense and they don't seem to be working. This needs to be looked at by the EU.

A simplified procedure, an 'innocent until proven guilty' policy and a more stringent procedure only for those that have previously overstayed visas seems to be the evident way forward. Or even better, visa free travel! It might not have the effect people imagine, and may in fact simply open the floodgates to increased tourism and personal contact. After all, if 30% of Albania's population is already abroad elsewhere in Europe, the Schengen floodgates are leaky to say the least!

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