In September 2021 I published my first article on Relocate.world. It is a very brief, somewhat abstract, anthropological expression of a core mission statement that still exists today – Freedom of Movement.
In global migration there are many legal instruments that regulate one's ability to move across borders and between nations. Reciprocity is one of these geopolitical strings that has a significant impact on what one passport holder can do versus another. It involves bilateral relations between two, or several, nations, and governs practical aspects of immigration.
It determines if you might need a visa, or can travel visa free on a waiver. If you need a visa, reciprocity determines the duration you will be granted for that visa-category, how long you are permitted to stay in the country, and how many entries you are permitted (i.e. single entry v. multiple).
In essence, for purposes of global migration, reciprocity is the mechanical result of a complex web of geopolitical relationships between nations.
According to Merriam-Webster, reciprocity implies a state of mutual dependence. In the current state of affairs, we as people are bound (or dependent) to a national identity and our freedom of movement inevitably hinges on this prescribed relationship. In other words, whether we like it or not, we all have a national identity.
In 2016 there were an increasing number of conversations revolving around the potential shift of power within the U.S. executive office. These conversations took place with clients who were considering, or actively pursuing a variety of visas for the United States – they were planning their next big move.
At this time there were talks of the “Muslim ban” – an excessively broad, indiscriminate, baseless, and vague political order that would restrict or outright ban entry for people from nearly a dozen nations.
As an immigration lawyer representing clients who held nationalities in these countries, I did my best to advise the many questions I was receiving about the potential changes in the executive office. My response was along the lines of: “One person cannot impact the U.S. immigration framework in such an immediate way. The chances of it influencing your visa application anytime soon would seem unconstitutional.”
Later in its life, this far-reaching executive order would be upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote.
This sudden shift of national ideology and its real-world impact on people shook me to the core. How could one person impact the life of so many…for worse…in the 21st century? How could it happen in America - what happened to checks and balances? If this could happen within a layered constitutional framework like the United States, what about everywhere else in the world?
I was asking these questions both as an individual and immigration lawyer. I was thinking about the Iranian doctors and scientists. The Egyptian academics and Turkish businessmen. The countless individuals and families seeking safe-harbour in the United States with origins from these unstable nations with a blanket ban.
My conclusion was simple and still relevant, yet not something I would share with clients at the time. Fear propagates fear in the veil of national security.
I took this photo last week while traveling in Milan. It left a very strong impression and inspired this article.
So we build borders. We invent machines and weapons to defend these borders. We construct complex regulatory frameworks to further cement our borders and employ diligent surveillance mechanisms for determining who passes through. And behind these borders we perpetuate self-determined ideologies as to what our borders should represent to everyone else outside of them - i.e. national identity.
In this regard, I am not just speaking of the United States. This is a global phenomenon. Theories of national self-determination are widespread and maintain a critical role for discourse in geopolitical spheres. In other words, how a nation becomes a nation, and remains a nation through the eyes of other nations.
Yet this entire high-level precept of “academic/intellectual/political/governmental” thought is missing something. It is missing something so fundamentally key and important that to conceptualize a national identity without it would be an offense of inhumane proportions – and it is happening. Let me phrase it like this: If we are to claim a national identity, it must be realized and cultivated through the people whom voluntarily attach themselves to it. In other words, I believe national identity results from human rights. It is a human choice. And if we are restricted, banned, or forced by pure disposition of where we are born within borders to not pursue our human right for the freedom of movement, there is inequality. There is injustice.
In the words of my international law professor, "identity is not static”.
The Global Citizen
Throughout history we bundled together as human beings based on several influential factors. Cultures were formed and cultivated based on geography – within these geographic spheres we developed customs and traditions, languages and beliefs, governance and heritage. Religion transcended the globe and sought influence, as did ideologies of foreign policy. Our movement across land, and ultimately borders, magnified over time – going fast from the age of chariots and parading legions, to an industrial age of transport and commercial globalization.
We’ve moved at the speed of light in a fraction of earth's history. Fast forward to the present: It is no wonder why our own regulatory global immigration frameworks haven’t caught up and why people, good people, are being left behind.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to remove all borders tomorrow and lower the colorful banners of national identity to the earth's surface. If anything, I also contemplate the counter-argument about the significance to preserve culture, language and national heritage – which risks becoming uniform if we lose ancestral roots in an era of increased mobility.
All that I am saying is if we are choosing to draw borders – let us start with a clear border between good versus evil. And if I am forced to choose between my country or the world, I choose the world. For borders are nothing more than fixations of man, and man is but a creation of this world.
Everything after this shall fall into place.
David is a passionate advocate for the freedom of movement and licensed immigration lawyer. In his private practice, he advises individuals and businesses regarding global immigration and mobility solutions.