Immigrant, Anti National or Something Else

A case of misaligned incentives & lost identity or a return to roots

The immigration debate has often focused on the net impact of waves of immigrants on the host economy (i.e. employment, wages of its citizens) or society.

However, there are also two other perspectives that derserve equal, if not more focus.

First, for the place of birth of the immigtant, the question is one of brain drain, decrease in labor force, a fall in GDP and loss of claiming discoveries or inventions that advance humanity in general.

But, these could be symptoms of other diseases plaguing the nation’s economy. Although brain drain is detrimental to the economy, as long as it is an economic reality, the failure to retain talent must inspire introspection to find out the root causes of the problem. Maybe, it is lopsided development within the national economy or maybe physical and mental stress is the price to pay for maintaining high economic growth rates. Maybe limitations on freedom, war, a failure of democracy or the state or an autocratic regime with less focus on human rights are the likely causes of people leaving the country. A young economy may not provide access to cutting edge technology or material comforts. However, this situation can only improve with time.

In sum, mass emigration of its residents, sometimes the best, is extremely painful for a nation. For war torn states or states with lack of human rights, emigration is more of a grey area.

The second perspective is that of the immigrant. For citizens of a young, vibrant and growing economy with its fair share of economic and social woes, it is hard to detach from their roots and migrate to a foreign country simply on the hope of a better lifestyle. Some end up achieving this better life but get branded as anti-national or less patriotic towards the country of their origin. Second generation of such immigrants may end up completely losing ties to their original roots and may end up assimilating or integrating with the local population.

If Abraham Maslow’s need hierarchy theory or the Buddhist focus on desire is used as a guidepost, when the incentives of an individual do not align with the goals of his/her country of birth, they migrate to a country that offers a possible alignment. However, a deeper question is one of enablers to human progress in general.

Take the case of an extremely brilliant scientist who needs a lab, funding and other resources to carry out his research. The scientist could end up discovering something new or inventing something that completely alters the course of humanity or results in a net benefit to humanity in general even though it may be a loss to his country of birth. This is because the country of birth has lost its right to claim the scientist as it’s citizen and if the scientists judgement is to be believed, the country of birth could not provide the enablers to catalyze his discovery or invention.

All view points could be justified. The country of birth can claim brain drain, the scientist can claim that without the enablers provided by the host country, his discovery or invention would not have been possible. The host country can claim to have provided a loving place with all the facilities that the scientist needed. Again, war torn countries or countries plagued with humanitarian conflict are not discussed here.

Besides being labeled an immigrant or anti national, maybe the scientist can claim to be interested in advancing humanity in general. Is being anti human a bigger sin than being anti national? Most people would say yes. But, its not a very simple answer.

The third route is a return to the country of birth. Maybe the guiding question is : having satisfied my need for a good life, where will my skills and abilities have the optimum impact on humanity in general? If the answer is returning to the home country, retaining its citizenship and participating in nation building, so be it.

In sum, there is always another option. It’s not a binary answer. With shifting times, an individual’s ability to benefit humanity could change nations but will end up benefiting humanity in general. While this is not a simple solution applicable to all immigrants, it is an option to consider.

For all the naysayers of brain drain, my question is: have you introspected and discovered the root causes of brain drain?

For the immigrant: do you feel you can benefit humanity more by alleviating poverty in your country of birth?

The answers to these questions are not scientific but matters of the human heart. The judgement lies with the individual as always and is very contextual.

However, for a lot of people struggling with a strong anti-national guilt, there is always a silver lining in the proverbial cloud i.e. a return to your roots.