Im(migration), by Dave Barrows

According to Graeber and Wengrow, for “the vast majority of human social experience”, we enjoyed “three primordial freedoms”:
 1. The freedom to move,
 2. The freedom to disobey
 3. The freedom to create or transform social relationships.

The first humans, often referred to as Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa around 300,000 to 200,000 years ago. This estimate is based on genetic and fossil evidence. The earliest Homo sapiens populations emerged in regions corresponding to present-day Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. These areas are considered the cradle of humanity due to the presence of some of the oldest fossil and archaeological finds. Human evolution is a complex process, and the emergence of Homo sapiens was not a sudden event but rather a gradual development over time.

Human beings have been on the move since prehistoric times, exploring and settling different parts of the world. Here's a broad overview of the history of human migration:

  • Prehistoric Migration: The earliest human migrations took place during the Paleolithic era (2.6 million to 10,000 BCE). Homo erectus and Homo sapiens gradually spread out from Africa to other parts of the world. These migrations were driven by factors such as the search for food, climate change, and the exploration of new territories.
  • Out of Africa: One of the most significant and well-documented migrations in human history is the "Out of Africa" migration. Around 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa and into other continents, including Asia, Europe, and eventually the Americas. These migrations were driven by factors such as population growth, technological advancements, and the need to adapt to changing environments.
  • Neolithic Revolution: The Neolithic Revolution, which occurred around 10,000 BCE, marked a major turning point in human history. It was during this period that humans transitioned from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. This shift led to the development of agriculture, animal domestication, and the establishment of permanent settlements. As a result, populations grew, and humans migrated to new areas suitable for farming.
  • Ancient Civilizations: Many ancient civilizations witnessed significant migration patterns. For example, in ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians established powerful empires and engaged in trade and cultural exchanges. The ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations also saw migrations driven by conquest, trade, and colonization.
  • Viking Expansion: From the 8th to the 11th centuries, the Vikings from Scandinavia embarked on extensive migrations, exploring, and settling territories across Europe, Asia, and even North America. They established trade routes, created colonies, and influenced the cultures of the regions they encountered.
  • Age of Exploration: The 15th to the 18th centuries marked the Age of Exploration, driven by European powers such as Spain, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands. This era led to the colonization and migration of Europeans to various parts of the world, including the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Modern Global Migration: In more recent times, global migration has been shaped by various factors such as industrialization, political conflicts, economic opportunities, and globalization. Large-scale migrations occurred during events like the Irish Potato Famine, the California Gold Rush, and both World Wars. The post-World War II era witnessed significant migration movements, including labor migrations from former colonies to Europe, the civil rights movement in the United States, and the rise of refugees and asylum seekers from conflict zones.

There are many important issues surrounding the morality of immigration, including difficult questions regarding the definition and moral status of refugees, the circumstances (if any) in which it is permissible to use guest workers, what obligations a rich country incurs when it actively recruits skilled workers from a poor state, the rights of irregular migrants, and whether there are any limitations on the selection criteria a country may use in deciding among applicants for immigration.
Arguments for Closed Borders

The moral imperative of closed borders is a complex and debated topic. Advocates of closed borders argue that a nation has the right to control its borders and regulate immigration to protect its citizens, preserve its culture and values, and safeguard its economic resources. They believe that a state has a responsibility to prioritize the well-being of its own citizens over those of other nations. Arguments include:

One of the most complex and controversial issues within the literature on the morality of immigration is what criteria a state may permissibly employ to distinguish among applicants for admission. Countries might use either a lottery or a first-come, first-admitted waitlist, but they might also screen the applicants and give preference to those whose language, culture and/or skill sets make them most likely to assimilate in the host state’s economy and political culture. But what if a country’s immigration policies differentiate among applicants due to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or country of origin? What if a country flatly refused to even consider applications for immigration?


Arguments for Open Borders

The moral imperative of open borders is based upon the principles of human rights, justice, and compassion. Advocates argue that all individuals, regardless of their place of birth, have inherent rights and dignity that should be respected and protected. Here are some key arguments supporting the moral imperative of open borders:

  • Equality and Justice: Open borders align with the principles of equality and justice by treating all individuals as equals and providing them with equal opportunities. The arbitrary distinction of birthplace should not determine a person's access to opportunities, resources, or basic human rights.
  • Freedom of Movement: The freedom to move and migrate is considered a fundamental human right. Restricting this freedom based on national boundaries denies individuals the opportunity to seek better lives, escape persecution or conflict, and reunite with their families.
  • Economic Benefits: Open borders can lead to economic benefits for both sending and receiving countries. Migrants contribute to the labor force, fill skill gaps, and contribute to economic growth. By removing barriers to migration, countries can tap into the potential of human capital, fostering innovation and prosperity.
  • Global Cooperation and Solidarity: Open borders promote international cooperation and solidarity by acknowledging the interconnectedness of the world. In a globalized society, addressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and climate change requires collaborative efforts and a shared responsibility among nations.
  • Humanitarian Obligation: Open borders reflect a sense of humanitarian obligation to assist those in need. People fleeing persecution, violence, or extreme poverty often have no choice but to seek refuge in other countries. By providing a haven, countries fulfill their moral duty to protect the vulnerable and uphold human rights.
  • Overcoming Historical Injustices: Historical colonialism, exploitation, and unequal distribution of resources have contributed to global inequalities. Open borders can be seen to rectify these historical injustices by promoting fairer access to resources and opportunities.
  • Utilitarianism: The utilitarian case for open borders stresses that restricting freedom of movement leads to obvious inefficiencies and is therefore impermissible


International refugee law, philosophy, and public policy


The rise of the nation state generated considerable discussion with respect to the philosophy and implementation of domestic and international migration public policy. The aftermath of World War One led to the creation of the League of Nations. A major task of the League of Nations was the development of international standards with respect to migration policy. The following the depicts the of chronology of international initiatives:

  • 1921: The League of Nations established the first international framework for the protection of refugees through the creation of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • 1933-1945: The rise of Nazi Germany and persecution of Jews led to the displacement of millions, setting the stage for significant developments in refugee protection.
  • 1951: The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) was adopted. It defined the term "refugee" and established the rights and obligations of refugees and states. The Refugee Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on July 28, 1951, in the aftermath of World War II and the displacement of millions of people. The Convention defines who is considered a refugee and outlines the basic rights and protections they are entitled to. A refugee is defined as a person who is outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and has a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.


The cornerstone of the Refugee Convention is the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits states from returning refugees to a territory where their life or freedom would be at risk due to persecution. The principle of non-refoulement is considered a customary norm of international law, binding on all states, regardless of whether they are parties to the Convention. Note that this does not include economic migration.

The Refugee Convention sets out a range of rights and protections for refugees, including the right to non-discrimination, access to courts and legal assistance, freedom of religion, access to education, and access to work. The Convention also provides for social welfare benefits, such as housing, public relief, and assistance, which should be on par with the treatment of nationals.

The Refugee Convention outlines the obligations of states in providing protection and assistance to refugees. States are required to admit refugees to their territory and provide them with basic rights and protections, regardless of whether they entered the country lawfully or unlawfully.

Optimizing public policy


There are alternative methodologies to optimize the development of nation states immigration public policy. These approaches include:

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA): CBA is a systematic approach used to evaluate the costs and benefits of a proposed policy or project. It compares the monetary value of the benefits generated by the policy with the associated costs. Policymakers can use CBA to determine whether a particular policy is worth implementing and to compare different policy options to identify the most cost-effective one.
  • Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs): RCTs are a rigorous experimental design commonly used in the field of social sciences to test the impact of specific policies or interventions. By randomly assigning participants to control and treatment groups, researchers can isolate the effects of the policy from other external factors and assess its true impact.
  • Systems Thinking: This approach looks at the interconnectedness of various factors in a system and analyzes how changes in one area might influence others. Public policy often has widespread and unintended consequences, and systems thinking helps policymakers understand the potential ripple effects of their decisions.
  • Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA): MCDA is a framework that considers multiple criteria and objectives when evaluating policy options. It allows policymakers to weigh different factors such as economic, social, environmental, promoting cultural diversity, family reunification, humanitarian considerations, and political considerations to make more informed and balanced decisions.
  • Agent-Based Modeling: This modeling technique simulates the behavior of individual agents (e.g., citizens, businesses) within a larger system to understand how their interactions may lead to emergent patterns and outcomes. Agent-based modeling can be valuable in studying the effects of policy changes on a population or complex system.
  • Game Theory: Game theory is often used in policy analysis to study strategic interactions between different actors. Policymakers can use this model to predict how individuals or groups will behave under different policy scenarios and design policies that incentivize desirable behaviors.
  • Predictive Analytics: Leveraging large datasets and advanced analytical techniques, predictive analytics can help policymakers anticipate future trends and potential challenges. By understanding the likely outcomes of different policy decisions, policymakers can make more informed choices.
  • Behavioral Economics: This approach incorporates insights from psychology and economics to understand how individuals and groups make decisions. Behavioral economics can provide valuable insights into the factors influencing people's behavior, helping policymakers design policies that align with human decision-making tendencies.
  • Participatory Approaches: These models involve engaging the public and various stakeholders in the policy development process. Public consultations, citizen assemblies, and focus groups can provide valuable input and ensure that policies reflect the needs and preferences of the affected population.
  • Data-Driven Governance: Integrating data-driven decision-making into policy processes can enhance efficiency and effectiveness. By leveraging data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, policymakers can identify patterns, predict outcomes, and tailor policies for better results.


Each model has its strengths and limitations, and the choice of the model depends on the specific context and goals of the policy being considered. In practice, policymakers often use a combination of these models and approaches to optimize public policy.


The pattern and drivers behind the immigration policy mix

A comparative analysis of 33 OECD countries between 1980 and 2010 reveals that despite a shift in political sympathies from asylum to labour migration, countries' immigration policy mixes have strongly converged into more liberal policies overall. The immigration policy mix primarily reflects governments’ limited room to manoeuvre due to competing political pressures. The recent wave of asylum migration into Europe and the United States may have altered this 2010 conclusion.

Canada's Immigration Plan 2023-2025

In 2022 437,000 immigrants arrived in Canada. In 2023, the target is 465,000 new permanent residents. In 2024, the plan is an additional 485,000 immigrants and in 2025, the target is 500,000 new permanent residents. The following table summarizes Canada's immigration targets between 2023-2025 by immigration class:

Immigration Class
























The incremental and rational models

The incremental and rational models are two contrasting approaches to public policymaking.

Incremental Model: The incremental model is based on the idea that public policy evolves gradually and is built upon existing policies and practices. It assumes that decision-makers make minor adjustments or modifications to existing policies rather than implementing radical or wholesale changes. Key features of the incremental model include:

a. Limited scope for change: Policy changes are typically small and focused on addressing specific issues rather than overhauling entire systems.

b. Pragmatic and conservative: Decision-makers work within the constraints of the existing political, economic, and social conditions. This approach is often seen as realistic and practical.

c. Reactive decision-making: Policymakers respond to immediate problems and concerns, addressing them in a piecemeal fashion.

d. Incremental adaptation: Policies are adjusted based on feedback, learning from previous experiences, and making minor course corrections as needed.

e. Stakeholder-oriented: The incremental approach often involves negotiation and compromise with various stakeholders to maintain stability and avoid major conflicts.

Rational Model: The rational model is a more systematic and analytical approach to public policymaking. It assumes that policymakers are rational, weigh the alternatives and select the optimal option. Key features of the rational model include:

a. Comprehensive analysis: Policymakers gather relevant data, conduct cost-benefit analyses, and assess the potential consequences of different policy options before making decisions.

b. Goal-oriented: The rational model focuses on identifying specific policy goals and finding the most efficient means to achieve them.

c. Long-term perspective: Policymakers consider the long-term implications of their decisions and aim to implement policies that have a lasting impact.

d. Logical decision-making: This model relies on a logical, step-by-step approach to decision-making, attempting to minimize bias and subjectivity.

e. Limited role of politics: The rational model seeks to reduce the influence of political ideologies and special interests, aiming for objective and evidence-based policy choices.


Decision-making process:

  • Incremental model: Decision-making is gradual, reactive, and tends to build on existing policies.
  • Rational model: Decision-making is systematic, proactive, and based on comprehensive analysis.

Scope of change:

  • Incremental model: Limited changes, focused on specific issues or problems.
  • Rational model: Open to more substantial and transformative changes.


  • Incremental model: Often involves short-term adjustments and adaptations.
  • Rational model: Tends to have a longer-term perspective.

Role of politics:

  • Incremental model: Acknowledges the importance of political constraints and stakeholder interests.
  • Rational model: Seeks to minimize political biases and focus on objective analysis.

Risk and uncertainty:

  • Incremental model: Perceived as less risky, as changes are small and built on previous experiences.
  • Rational model: Involves more risk, as decisions are based on projections and predictions.

In practice, policymakers use elements of both models. The choice between the incremental and rational models depends on the complexity of the problem, the availability of data and resources, the political climate, and the duration of the objective function.


Policy indeterminacy

Policy indeterminacy is ambiguity or unpredictability regarding the direction and nature of government policies or actions. It can occur when policymakers' decisions are uncertain, inconsistent, or subject to frequent changes, making it difficult for businesses, individuals, and other stakeholders to make informed decisions.

Policy indeterminacy can arise for various reasons, including changes in political leadership, shifting priorities, conflicting ideologies, economic fluctuations, and external factors. In such an environment, policymakers may send mixed signals, or there might be disagreements within the government itself about the best course of action. As a result, the overall policy direction becomes unclear, leading to uncertainty and potential disruptions in the economy, markets, and society.


A cursory review of the Canadian public policy with respect to immigration suggest that the incremental model is the predominant methodology, with emphasis on the political imperative. Elements of the rational model may be utilized, particularly with respect to the economic category. Canadian immigration policy suggests policy indeterminacy.