Eric Crampton: Doing good, and doing well as a consequence

Lawyers and legal assistants network and use social media in the baggage claim area at Dulles International Airport, ...
MIKE THEILER/REUTERS

Lawyers and legal assistants network and use social media in the baggage claim area at Dulles International Airport, aiding passengers who have arrived and encountered problems because of Donald Trump's travel ban to the United States.

OPINION: A sufficiently advanced incompetence in a president is indistinguishable from malice. Donald Trump has issued an Executive Order blocking legal American residents, who happen to have been born in a small set of Middle Eastern countries, from returning home. We simply cannot tell whether the resulting mess was due to his colossal ignorance in implementing policy, or whether he wanted the results he got. 

Either way, families were ripped apart and small children were detained in airports for hours without their parents. American promises of migration for Iraqis who helped American forces were broken. So too was the credibility of any future promises to those whose support in any American intervention abroad is critical to those missions' success. Iraq's retaliation by withdrawing the visas of American contractors working in that country was as predictable as it is damaging for reconstruction efforts there.

It is a disaster. And it is a disaster that risks becoming a constitutional crisis. Trump's administration seems to be directing the border services to ignore court orders to delay his Executive Order for 90 days while the courts decide whether it is legal. 

It is natural then to ask what, if anything, New Zealand can do to help. 

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In the immediate term, there are uncounted thousands of legal American residents who are not able to return home if they are currently outside America, or who risk not being able to return if they leave America. They passed through some of the world's most rigorous scrutiny before being granted refugee status, work visas, or permanent residence. And they are now disadvantaged because of the country of their birth.

America has long been a magnet for the world's most talented people. And America's most advanced industries rely heavily on foreigners allowed to work in the United States on H1-B visas. America's universities are the best in the world because they attract top scholars from everywhere. Foreigners on H1-B visas or with permanent residence teach foreign students on F visas, making education a massively successful American export industry. 

New Zealand should announce a new visa category for people who were legally entitled to live and work in America until the Executive Order broke things. If the New Zealand government has wanted to attract more highly skilled migrants, there would be few better bets than trying to help those who have been hurt by American policy. 

Canada has been talking about similar moves. Canadian universities are rushing to accommodate students bumped from American universities. Canadian tech companies have asked their government to implement an immediate targeted visa providing temporary residence to those displaced by the Executive Order; Canada's prime minister has been active on Twitter, signalling openness. 

New Zealand is running a trial of a new way of supporting refugees, modelled on Canada's sponsorship regime. Canada supplements the government's refugee quota with a private sponsorship arrangement, under which more refugees are allowed in whenever Canadians are prepared to sponsor them. The bulk of the financial cost of supporting refugees then shifts from the government to those Canadians who are willing to help. And those sponsors also do an excellent job of helping refugees integrate into Canadian communities. 

New Zealand could expand its sponsored refugee trial to accommodate those refugees with whom America has broken faith. This need not be at any particularly large cost to the Government. All the government needs to do is let caring New Zealanders help.

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And demonstrating New Zealand's willingness to help also signals its continued alliance with America's better spirit. 

Those whom New Zealand might help would likely return to America when it returns to its senses. But some of those temporarily displaced could become excellent new New Zealanders.

This week, the New Zealand Initiative released The New New Zealanders: Why migrants make good Kiwis. It provides a stocktake on immigration to New Zealand, finding that migrants make a substantial contribution, and that many of the fears around immigration are not supported by the data. 

Any migrants New Zealand did attract from America would be especially likely to contribute to New Zealand's skill base. But doing well in this way should be seen as a side-effect of doing good rather than the reason for doing it. New Zealand should help because we can, because it is the right thing to do, and because it shows our support for our friends in America during a difficult time.

  • Eric Crampton is head of research at the New Zealand Initiative.

 - The Dominion Post

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