Home > Policy > Manu Tuilagi, and the injustice and capriciousness of our immigration laws

Manu Tuilagi, and the injustice and capriciousness of our immigration laws

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Watching the England v Georgia game this morning, this remark from one of the commentators reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while:

“Manu Tuilagi [England centre], was almost deported last year due to visa problems. He was eventually granted indefinite leave to remain…”

A quick google shows that Tuilagi had come into the country on a six-month holiday visa aged 13, and then stayed on illegally after the Home Office turned down his work permit when the Leicester Tigers offered him a professional contract. The decision was eventually overturned, with a representative from the UK border agency saying

“Taking into consideration factors such as his age, length of residence and family ties in the UK, a decision has now been made to grant Mr Tuilagi indefinite leave to remain.”

I wonder how many young men and women who arrived as children or teenagers, who have been resident in the country for five years and who have family ties in the UK ended up less fortunate in their dealings with the immigration authorities. I’m sure that the fact that Tuilagi is one of the most exciting young players in world rugby had absolutely nothing to do with the decision.

I find the resistance to immigration amongst the vast majority of citizens of liberal democracies politically understandable, but at the same time totally contrary to the principles that ostensibly form the basis of such a society. Resistance to immigration is completely inconsistent with the two principles of justice offered by Rawls in his classic liberal treatise Theory of Justice. Let’s start with the second, the difference principle (paraphrased)

“Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society”

Rawls meant the difference principle literally (i.e. that we must maximize the welfare of the least well off individual), but let’s take it as a more general concern with the least well-off. The problem with national statistics on income inequality is that you can get situations where inequality decreases whilst measured inequality increases. Imagine a society of three people: one who earns $100, one who earns $200 and another whore earns $300. There is also another, who earns 10$ in his home country but would earn $30 if he immigrated to the wealthier nation. If he immigrated and the other’s incomes were not affected, measured income inequality would have risen despite the fact that the inequality amongst the group had actually decreased. That’s because national statistics only count people who are in the country at the time – they don’t count the people who weren’t in the country before and are now, or the people who would potentially come to the country if they were legally allowed to. This phenomenon is the fallacy of analytical nationalism, which is discussed at length in Will Wilkinson’s Cato superb paper on inequality. Now that I’m aware of it, I see this fallacy all over the place. The fastest route to decreasing global inequality would be for rich countries to open up their borders, but it wouldn’t show up in any of the statistics.

If our restrictive immigration policies generally violate the difference principle, the case of Tuilagi is an example of how many of our institutions violate Rawl’s first principle:

“Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others” (my emphasis)

We can argue over whether the right for an otherwise law-abiding person to enter and work freely in your territory is a basic liberty compatible with similar liberty for others, but the way we apply it in no way applies an equal right insofar as such a right exists. Do we seriously believe that Tuilagi shaping up to be a major presence in English rugby didn’t affect the decision? The problem with laws that are highly restrictive of personal liberty is that they end up being enforced by institutions that inevitably end up favouring those who least need to be favoured.

I’m very happy for Tuilagi that he was able to remain in the country with his family. I’m very happy he’s playing for England. If only I could believe that nothing would have been different if he wasn’t.

Categories: Policy
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