Ones to Watch: US Immigration Reform, Openness to Migrants, Biometrics, Displaced Iraqis
December 1, 2006
The Effect of US Elections on Immigration Reform
Now that the Democrats control both houses of the US Congress, immigration pundits, analysts, and bloggers are speculating about the prospects for immigration reform in 2007 (see Issue #3: US Immigration Reform: Better Luck Next Year). The Republicans faced a party divide on this issue, but Democrats will face the same problem. What kind of legislation will be introduced, and will it be significantly different than the proposals seen in 2006?
Increasing Openness to Migrants of All Skill Levels
Although most countries will only actively court the highly skilled (see Issue #6: Growing Competition for the “Right” Skilled Workers), some are beginning to show a new level of openness that may catch on in 2007. Singapore has already acknowledged it will need more foreign construction workers, and has made provisions for allowing them in. New Zealand has agreed to allow 5,000 temporary workers per year from the South Pacific to work in agriculture. In the United States, where unauthorized migrants tend to work in low-skilled jobs, immigration reform could bring about visas for workers on the lower end of the labor market.
Spain has continued to admit workers from Morocco, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America with mere abandon, joining Italy and Greece in their openings to temporary workers at all skill levels. The question is, will the rest of Europe open up as well?
Biometrics Regulating Flows of People
The United States successfully pushed 24 of the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to begin issuing biometric passports by this October. To make sure their citizens could continue to enter the United States without visas, countries from Japan to Australia to the United Kingdom complied. These passports must have a contactless chip with the passport holder's biographic information and a biometric identifier, such as a digital photograph of the holder.
But from this point forward, the technology will only become more sophisticated and more pervasive, all with the goal of speeding up flows of people and reducing security risks. The US Department of Homeland Security is ramping up its biometric plans, hoping to install 10-fingerprint systems at points of entry by 2008. Citizenship and Immigration Canada began a six-month biometrics field test this fall of fingerprint and facial recognition technologies. The UK is charging forward with its national ID card (see Issue #10: How to Fight Homegrown Terrorism: Surveillance, Outreach, or Both?), which, when it debuts in a few years, will include biometric identification.
And in the private sector, Scandinavian Airlines announced this fall it will be the first airline in the world to introduce biometric security checks to guarantee that passengers who hand in baggage are identical to those who board its flights.
The Displaced in Iraq
Day-to-day reporting of the war in Iraq hasn't focused much on what may become an even bigger story in 2007: the growing number of internally displaced and refugees due to sectarian violence. According to UNHCR estimates, about 425,000 Iraqis have fled their homes this year, and about 50,000 Iraqis a month are joining their ranks. In addition, some 2,000 Iraqis are arriving in Syria and 1,000 in Jordan each day. European countries also received more asylum applications from Iraqis in the first half of 2006 than any other nationality. UNHCR has had to change its strategy in Iraq, and it's hoping the international community gets on the humanitarian bandwagon.
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