How can we be open yet cautious? How can we maintain our traditions while still keeping abreast of the changes that transpire in this world?

In every politician’s mind is not an ethical or ideological conundrum, but a practical one–especially as it pertains to a nation’s immigration or international trade policy. How can we, as a nation, be part of the overall flow in a way that is beneficial as opposed to detrimental?

The war in Ukraine has rudely reminded us that in times of war, nations begin to pull back and pull away from trade with nations that may utilise those goods and services to execute what is a crime against humanity. Embargoes and sanctions have always been utilised by countries to manage the flow of what is going out and what is coming in. These policies are never set in stone, but rather, they are a response to what is going on in the greater environment.

In certain periods of history, nations are generally more open; where else during other periods of history, nations tend to either close off and embark upon a policy of isolation. Even the US, the modern self-proclaimed policeman of the world, embarked on a policy of isolationism in the 1930s. Regardless of which nation is practising these policies, it is always ultimately done to manage the flow: be it of goods and services or of people.

Countries like China, Japan and South Korea, which are home to an ethnically homogenous population, are active participants in world trade. East Asian nations, however, have historically had strict and near stringent immigration policies largely based on ethnicity.

Even when the immigration policy is relaxed, as has been the case in Japan in recent decades, the culture itself is deeply entrenched in an intergenerational pattern which generally renders the country an unattractive option for immigrants. While language barriers can be overcome with time, effort, ability and capacity; the mental barriers that exist towards foreigners within a homogeneous ethnic group can be near impossible for an immigrant to overcome.

A country’s viability as an option for immigrants is highly contingent upon what a nation can offer immigrants seeking to immigrate. Is it truly ‘better’ than where they have come from? If the answer is yes, they will probably decide to call it home. If the answer is no, then that could create difficulties for the economy and the population as a whole.

A country’s immigration policy is designed to keep certain people out and let certain people in. Immigration policies also change over the course of time depending on the needs of the nation.

When we travel through the world—be it for work or education—we realise the creative potential that we, as humanity, can hold if we learn to work with each other. Within this potential, there is the capacity for chaos and destruction.

Ideally, international trade policies and immigration policies should seek to make the most of the potential upside while limiting the potential downside.

The Immigrant Experience

The immigrant experience is a universal one. It is one that every nation has gone through in waves that move up and down. During certain periods of history, a nation is able and willing to allow large groups to immigrate.

For both the migrating group and the home country, it signals a period in history where there is a movement from an old way of life to a new way of life. This refers to a period when a nation undergoes a transition and a shift.

We generally don’t immigrate or travel by ship anymore. Our journeys are not as long as they used to be. Within a day or two, we can usually arrive at our destination. The journey part of the immigrant’s experience is not as treacherous as it once was. We no longer travel for months before we arrive on the other side of the shore. As far as goods go, though, we are still using the ocean and it has a huge impact on the supply chain of the world.

On this journey, by air or by sea, calamities can befall either us or our goods. To minimise the potential downsides, we usually take out insurance policies. This is what people have been doing for a long time–for both themselves and their goods–so that they can undertake risky ventures. However, not all immigrant groups have this luxury, even today. They don’t get to manage their risks before they go. They just have to take the risk and go.

The First Immigrant (2022) by Dipa Sanatani

Even when we talk about immigrant groups, there are different segments that immigrate for different purposes. Some may be educated, others may not be. All of these groups have different needs. It is, however, not an indicator of one’s abilities.

When we talk about adaptation, we need to ensure that both the home culture and the immigrant group are trying to adapt to each other. Government policies should, in theory, be designed such that the migrating group has the support that they need to adapt and integrate.

At the same time, some effort needs to be made on the part of the immigrant group to actually adapt, integrate and thrive. This is what ensures a win-win situation for both parties involved.

Whenever people move to a new place to start a new life, someone should be there to help and assist during the early stages of the immigration journey. It could be a boss, a colleague, a relative or a family friend. Somebody should be there, in the early stages, to help the newly arrived immigrant to settle in. If you went overseas to study, there would be an orientation leader who would be there to help you with that transition before you go on your merry way.

This transition is necessary, especially when we’re transforming from one way of life to another. We need to undergo an initiatory period during which we’re in an adjustment phase. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly how long this is going to take. There is a considerable amount of ambiguity involved. Even if you’ve travelled extensively and lived abroad for several years does not guarantee that you’ll automatically be able to adjust. For instance, expatriates are notorious for living in expat bubbles.

At the same time, just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to adjust. Based on a medley of different factors, certain places and situations are easier for certain immigrant groups to adjust to. In other places and situations, the synergy is not there, rendering it a difficult and painstaking journey.

If immigrants don’t receive support or assistance in the early days to point them in the direction that they need to be headed towards, it can be a tumultuous journey for everyone involved, including the home culture.

The Long Lost Chapters of the Past?

All immigrants carry within them, the remnants of their past. When we immigrate somewhere, we carry with us: our mental patterning, our emotional baggage and our belongings. Even if we don’t bring our possessions along; there are intangible aspects within us that we have carried from our home country to the place that we’ve immigrated to.

This is a universal phenomena. We go someplace new and somehow or another, some pattern repeats itself. This could be due to something that is lodged mentally in our mind. It could, however, be an opportunity and a path to fully comprehend the patterns that recur throughout the Universe. Whenever I think of the idea of a Cosmic Force, it is an indication that there exist certain universal patterns that repeat and re-repeat themselves no matter where you go. This is part of the Cosmic Force.

People erroneously think, I’m going to move somewhere and my problems are going to magically disappear. That’s not usually the case. Regardless of whether we’ve moved in favourable or unfavourable circumstances, we are actually carrying within us aspects from the past; even as we move into a new future.

When we physically arrive at our destination, we have to realise that if we want to immigrate successfully, we have to let go of some of these aspects that we’ve accumulated and carried with us to this new place. This is also a process. This is also a journey.

Usually, if you’re open-minded, you can pick up some new skills and some new ideas in your newly adopted country. If, at some stage, you either go back or move on, you’ll realise that you’re now carrying that with you as well.

Wherever we arrive, whenever we arrive, we need to look at ‘our stuff’ and think: How much of this do I want to keep or let go of? What am I actually taking with me into my next journey? What do I want to leave behind?

It’s imperative to have that mentality walking in. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. There are deep and profound changes that you will need to go through.

There is a sense of hope, though. There is also a sense of excitement. Especially when we start anew because we know that a new adventure awaits. Despite all the cautions and the ‘be carefuls’ that people give us, it is a new adventure; so it will come with its own Pandoras Box.

But I like to think that, sooner or later, we all find our fortune.

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