A Multifaceted Argument for Open Borders in the Global Debate


SEATTLE — International Law recognizes the “liberty of movement,” or the right of every human being to leave their country of birth. We believe that people have the right to leave a country, but yet nations often make it difficult for them to enter another. Globally, the current attitudes and policies concerning immigration are dismal.

Since the turn of the century, nations’ borders have tightened and laws concerning immigration have become increasingly xenophobic. The United States’ “War on Terror” and Europe’s refugee crisis have instilled fear and prejudice about immigrants into the minds of many. This prejudice has manifested socially and politically in events such as Brexit and U.S. President Trump’s plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But what if those prejudices are misplaced and ill-informed? What if open borders is the answer to alleviating global poverty and improving everyone’s situation? Here are 3 arguments for open borders:

1. Economic Benefits

Perhaps the most enticing argument for open borders is its enormous economic potential. History and data both support the theory that open borders would increase the world’s GDP by a range of 67 to 147 percent. That means potentially doubling the global GDP in a mere few decades.

The economic benefits open borders would reap would be mutually beneficial for both the countries receiving immigrants and the countries where those immigrants reside. The influx of migrants would boost markets and grow economies through increased production, labor force and consumer spending. Moreover, immigrants would be able to spur development and inspire political freedom back in their countries of origin.

2. Political

Political beliefs and rational provide the strongest counter argument for open borders; yet even they can be refuted. Many believe that mass immigration would oust native jobs, threaten progressive civil rights gains and strain the welfare state.

To begin, immigrants have a notably low voter turnout and gravitate towards a status quo bias, so their effect influence would be only moderately negative at worst. Additionally, many countries do not or can not give migrants voting rights at all.

The influx of immigrants would not significantly steal jobs away from natives, for migrants tend to have different skills and work in a different labor market than the majority in the host country. Immigration allows both migrants and natives to “leverage their competitive advantages” and stimulate the market in a way that raises real wages for everyone.


Closed borders and anti-immigration policies are inherently discriminating people based on the country they were born in — a matter of identity completely out of one’s control. Immigrants have good intentions and, more often than not, are attempting to escape poverty or persecution. In essence, border control refuses people the basic human right to reach their potential and improve their situation, thus actively contributes to the oppression of the world’s poor.

Michael Clemens, one of the strongest economist advocates for open borders, parallels the argument with women’s rights. Up until the late 1800s in the U.S., women did not have the right to vote, work or own property. Today, no one will deny the social, political, and economic benefits that women’s rights have contributed to the U.S., even if a small percentage of men suffered from the initial introduction of women into the workforce.

The argument for open borders is multifaceted, but fundamentally straightforward. Politics and nationalities aside, open borders would benefit everyone and virtually eliminate global poverty — which should be reason enough.

Completely open borders is realistically not going to happen in the near future, but even adapting current immigration legislation to be more free flowing could reap benefits and better the lives of many. In the past, the world’s greatest moral revolutions, such as the abolition of slavery, have fostered a better world; perhaps the revolution of open borders is next.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr


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