föstudagur, maí 05, 2006

immigrant song

I've been following the immigration debate in America over the last month or so, and I have to say after some thought that my sentiments on this one are more closely aligned with the loopy far-right wing of the Republican party than they are on any other issue. I am an immigrant, and I see how hard it is, even with a well-paying job, to be an immigrant. It's hard to come face-to-face with people's personal prejudices, to deal with sour-faced bureaucrats for permission to reside, to be expected to understand a new language, to try to make a life in a brand-new society. So from that perspective I have sympathy with immigrants to the United States.

But, just like immigrants to the U.S., this is the path that I chose. All the challenges that come with being a foreigner in a new land are challenges that I accepted when I got off the airplane at Keflavík and presented my "tilkynning" letter to the immigration officer there.

It was a bit complicated getting permission to live and work in Iceland. Once I found the job, there were a large number of application materials to fill out, and nobody answered the phone or my emails at the Immigration Office (Útlendingastofnun). Finally, exasperated, I flew myself to Iceland for a long weekend and sat down with my employer to go through all of the materials. We had to fill out pages and pages on several application forms, and the rules for what had to be submitted weren't presented anywhere clearly. I had to get a criminal record (or lack thereof) statement from my home state of Massachusetts. I had to get a signed letter showing proof of residence, even though I hadn't moved here yet. And approval from a trade union. And justification for why my skills were special. And a medical insurance letter. And on and on. Then I had to leave the country (no problem for me as I was only here a weekend) and wait an unspecified amount of time (8 or 10 weeks in the end) for approval. Then I had to get a visa to enter Iceland again as a non-tourist, and once here I went through a whole new series of hoops. The process is even more complicated today, as the Icelandic government has added more regulations since I came in.

I have to submit almost the entire application again every year, to extend my stay by another year. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. But no problem, if this is what it takes to live here, where I want to live.

All of which makes me more than a little annoyed when I hear about other immigrants in Iceland trying to "finesse" the system, skipping some steps and crossing their fingers. I know that's their perogative, but it increases the burden on the rest of us who are trying to be good citizens in our new land. It's because of people finessing that the application burden steadily increases every year.

Which brings me back to the U.S. There are many in the world who would like to immigrate legally to the United States, and wait on endless lists, many never getting the chance to enter. Meanwhile, the country is jam-packed with illegal immigrants, who through historical neglect of employment law, are tacitly allowed to stay and work. This is inherently unfair. The United States should welcome immigrants, as it always has done, but only those immigrants who enter through legal channels. The presence of illegal immigrants leads to societal distrust of immigrants of all stripes, even the legal ones, the guys like me, the ones who came in on the up-and-up and strive to be upstanding members of the community. Illegal immigrants chose the illegal path to entry, and they have already shown that they don't respect the laws of their chosen land; why should they have the right to continue to live and work in a country they entered this way?


Blogger Skúli said...

This gives an Icelander something to think about: somehow I had imagined it was not that complicated to move here.

Blogger Sigvaldi said...

It is not complicated if you are moving within the Nordic countries or within the European Economic zone, otherwise it can be very complicated.

Blogger JB said...

I think it's safe to say that as an American one has to really want to move to Iceland to make the hoopla worth the while. It's not an easy process.

Blogger Einar said...

I think empathy and recognition is due to anybody courageous enough to leave his home country and go to another country and try to build up a new existence, not only to "legal" immigrants but also to the "illegal" ones... "Nobody is illegal" (though I am aware of the practical dilemma and limits of this statement... Or shouldn't then Columbus or the first settlers to North America be considered as illegal too, as the land was already occupated by native americans?!...

Blogger JB said...

Einar, the practical limits are exactly the problem. A country should be able to control how many immigrants it allows in. Let's take your home country of Iceland. How would you feel knowing that every day another 100 immigrants were rowing themselves ashore at Mýrdalssandur, none speaking Icelandic and mostly uneducated, and expecting jobs and a social safety net in Iceland? Would you really be OK with that? Would you still say "nobody is illegal"?

Blogger Sirry said...

Well, I'm sort of in a boat with the illegal immigrants. Due to circumstances that were out of my hands. Once being legal, I have not found ways to fix my problems.
I have endured extremely tough times in the states.
I was not able to leave because of financial reasons. Now if I leave, I'd probably be jailed. That has happened to a few young women from Europe (western) who because of circumstances were not able to comply with the extremely tough and sometimes unreasonable law in the US. One Belgian lady got 2 weeks in jail. It was extremely sad.

Another point I would like to point out, is that the jobs most of these illegal immigrants are jobs Americans DON'T want, such as food service and trash collecting.

The US government should encourage companies to bring back IT and phone service jobs that were lost to India before shouting out, we need jobs.

JB, this is nothing personal, I'm just stuck smack in the middle of all of this. And it's not easy.

I do like what the Dutch government has done.

I also think that the future of the US, which I don't see as being easily avoided is becoming bi-lingual. I see it as enriching.

I also agree with Einar, weren't the Europeans invading America as illegals?
It's all relative and a part of evolution. We need to work together on the solutions, rather than react in fear or annoyance. It seems as though some European countries have found some solution.

Blogger Einar said...

Unfortunately there is no easy answer to these questions... And one answer which is too easy in my opinion, is to simply toughen immigration restrictions... Simply raising the walls is just no options... Immigrants rowing to Myrdalssandur is fortunately not a problem due to geographical reasons... But knowing that there are herds of people risking their lifes every night to cross the strait of Gibraltar in nutsshells out of sheer desperation and many perishing is just heartbreaking... Even if we lock ourselves inside our fortresses in Europe and the US, we simply cannot ignore what's happening outside of it... I still think "nobody is illegal", everybody deserves a chance! Ok, I agree with immigration control, but then if we keep them out, we have to remember our responsibility to help in the countries where those people are coming from...

Blogger Sirry said...

I completely agree with Einar, we are more fortunate in the west and have lots to spare, and lots of abundance. We should share it where the need is the most. We are after all, all a part of the human race. We should send help to them, so that they won't need to parish in desperation

Blogger JB said...

Sirry and Einar, those are great points. One idea I have heard that I really like is for the U.S. to spend some of the "border patrol" funds on developing infrastructure in Mexico, especially in the southern part of the country where roads are terrible or nonexistent. One big impediment to economic development is infrastructure; if the villages of Mexico were better connected, a local economy could begin to flourish. The U.S. could do a lot to help economic conditions in Mexico and its other neighbors to the south.

Blogger JB said...

...but Einar, you saying "Immigrants rowing to Myrdalssandur is fortunately not a problem due to geographical reasons" is a classic Icelandic reaction. I was posing a hypothetical, to help you see my point of view as an American. But as E pointed out to me last night, you came back with the Icelandic "It could never happen here, so I don't have to worry about it."

I hear these sentiments a lot here: "Iceland is special." "We are different." "I can leave the hot shower running at the pool." "We don't have to worry about our bubblicious stock market; it's different here." "We don't have racism here."

Perhaps Iceland and the United States are not that much different after all. In the U.S. you get "Well this is the best country in the world, so who cares what's happening other places." and in Iceland you have "We're so isolated/special/sparsely populated, what happens in the rest of the world doesn't matter."

Blogger JB said...

Here is the take of some economists on immigration. I agree: the US should open up its quotas so that more immigrants can come in from all over the world. As should Iceland, with its 1.5% unemployment and screaming inflation.

Blogger JB said...

My cousin chimes in:

Like Jared, I find myself in the bizarre space of agreement with the US right. The "pathway to citizenship" is a retroactive waiver of immigration law. I don't see a link between the arrival of Europeans over 400 years ago and the immigration law of 2006. Illegal immigrants are doing jobs Americans won't because illegal labor artificially suppresses wages to the point that citizens largely can't afford to take the jobs. Grandparents on both sides of my family were immigrants and I welcome anyone from anywhere, provided they follow the rules to get here.

Blogger Jakes said...

I have ben considering moving to Iceland for some time. I stumbled upon this blog by pure chance or luck? Anyway, I have been reading about the immigration requirements and such. I have one question for you? How difficult is it to obtain a job in Iceland for an American? I am college educated and work in the insurance industry (although willing to do anything really)...


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