Open border

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An open border is a border that enables free movement of people between different jurisdictions with limited or no restrictions to movement. A border may be an open border due to intentional legislation allowing free movement of people across the border or a border may be an open border due to lack of adequate enforcement or adequate supervision of the border which allows the free movement of people across the border combined with inadequate detection and inadequate enforcement within the jurisdiction to ensure people have in fact entered through authorized border controls. An open territorial border allows free movement of people between two different countries or between a group of countries. An example: The open border of this is the opening of international borders between different member states of the European Union which has allowed free movement with very few restrictions. An open civic border allows free movement of people within a country between different states or territories. An example of this is the United States where interstate borders are open with very limited restrictions on movement. The term "open borders" applies only to the flow of people, it does not refer to the flow of goods and services.[1] An equivalent concept to open borders in relation for the free flow of goods and services is free trade. Generally where an open borders policy exist so does a free trade policy but the converse is not necessarily true, there are many examples of a free trade policy which is not accompanied by an open borders policy.

Different types of borders[edit]

In order to understand the arguments for and against open borders it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the other types of borders available. These are:

A conditionally open border is a border that allows movement of people across the border that meet a special set of conditions. This special set of conditions which limits the application of border controls that would normally otherwise apply could be defined by an international agreement or international law or the special conditions could be defined by a regulation or law of the jurisdiction that the people are claiming the right to enter. Conditionally open borders generally requires a claim to be submitted from the people who are proposing to enter the new jurisdiction stating the case why they meet the special conditions which allows entry into the new jurisdiction. The new jurisdiction may detain the people until their claim is approved for entry into the new jurisdiction or they may release them into the new jurisdiction while their claim is being processed. When ever a conditionally open border is allowed, considerable effort is often required to ensure that border controls do not break down to such an extent that it becomes an open border type situation. An example of a conditionally open border is a border of any country which allows movement of asylum seekers due either to application of the 1951 Refugee Convention or international law which allows people to cross a border to escape a situation where their lives are directly threatened or in significant danger.

A controlled border is a border that allows movement of people between different jurisdictions but places restrictions and sometimes significant restrictions on this movement. This type of border may require a person crossing this border to obtain a visa or in some cases may allow a short period of Visa free travel in the new jurisdiction. A controlled border always has some method of documenting and recording people movements across the border for later tracking and checking compliance with any conditions associated with the Visa or any other border crossing conditions. A controlled border places limitations on what a person crossing the border can do in the new jurisdiction, this is usually manifested in limitations on employment and also it limits the length of time the person can legally remain in the new jurisdiction. A controlled border often requires some type of barrier, such as a river, ocean or fence to ensure that the border controls are not bypassed so that any people wishing to cross the border are directed to authorized border crossing points where any border crossing conditions can be properly monitored. Given the large scale movement of people today for work, holidays, study and other reasons a controlled border also requires internal checks and internal enforcement within the jurisdiction to ensure that any people who have entered the jurisdiction are in fact complying with any border crossing conditions and that they are not overstaying to reside illegally or as an undocumented resident.[2] Most international borders are by legislative intent of the controlled border type. However when there is a lack of adequate internal enforcement or if the borders are land borders, often the border is only controlled on part of the border and other parts of the border may remain open to such an extent that, it may be considered as an open border due to lack of supervision and enforcement.

A closed border is a border that prevents movement of people between different jurisdictions with limited or no exceptions associated with this movement. These borders normally have fences or walls in which any gates or border crossings are closed and if these border gates are opened they generally only allow movement of people in exceptional circumstances. Perhaps the most famous still-extant example of a closed border is the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea. The Berlin Wall can also be called a "closed border".

Arguments against open borders[edit]

Controlled borders restrict migration by non-citizens. Several arguments for controlled borders and against open borders are as follows:

  1. That controlled borders encourage responsible policies in relation to population and birth rates for countries by preventing high population and high birth rate countries from disgorging their people onto other low population and low birth rate countries. This is critical in an over populated world that is struggling to feed itself. Open borders essentially punishes those groups of people who are exercising birth/population control to reduce their impact on their local environment and potentially rewards high population growth by allowing people to move from over populated areas to less stressed areas where people may be protecting their environment by controlling their population. Open borders by allowing easy emigration also encourages high population growth regions to continue their high fertility practices by providing an escape valve.[3][4][5]
  2. That open borders can be a threat to security and public safety. Open borders assumes that people will have the best of intentions towards an areas existing people and will continue to have the best of intentions[citation needed]. The threats to security and public safety can sometimes manifest themselves many decades after the initial immigration.[6]
  3. That open borders encourage poor and unskilled immigration that is good in the short term for businesses as a source of cheap labor but bad in the medium & longer term for the taxpayer as these people require costly government services and require expensive infrastructure to be built to sustain them, neither of which the new immigrants can afford to pay for. If this infrastructure is not built, which is increasingly the case due to its expense, then it can result in the creation of slums and ghettos which consists of much of the immigration and also people displaced from the society by the new immigrants.[7] Alternatively Controlled Borders can be used to encourage skilled immigration that is in demand in a country and at levels of immigration that will benefit the country.[8]
  4. That conditionally open borders based on environmental conditions, i.e. environmental refugee, will discourage a country from conservatively assessing environmental risks and will also discourage a country from taking the necessary steps to ensure that their population and resource usage are within the constraints of those environmental risks. An example of this is climate change, science is clearly showing what conditions have previously been present on different parts of the planet due to natural variations in climate and it is reasonable to expect governments to assess these past conditions for population carrying capacity and make changes to their population policies to ensure that they can manage these changes without creating a large number of environmental refugees for other countries to absorb. For example, Bangladesh has already requested that other countries be prepared to accept Bangladeshi environmental refugees, despite a rapidly growing population.[9]
  5. That conditionally open borders for people fleeing conflict, i.e. asylum seekers, based on the rights afford by different UN conventions and international laws has created a route for people to flow from low income developing countries to higher income developed countries, bypassing the usual border controls. This has created many problems associated with people smuggling, such as debt bondage and many other forms of personnel abuse as people move across the globe to select countries which offer the greatest benefits. In fact people have often moved in such numbers to the developing world that structured assessment processes have broken down and that the conditionally open border that was intended has come to resemble more of an unconditional open border.[10][11]
  6. That large scale migration across open borders can result in demographic changes that can result in demographic shifts that change a country's political power structures in favor of the new demographic and against the existing people of a region or country. It is common place for an ethnic and cultural group to lobby politically for further immigration from its particular ethnic and cultural group. Further it is well known that they are likely to assist any illegal immigrants from their particular ethnic and cultural group to maintain themselves within the community and avoid detection from immigration officials. A bad start/experience to immigration for a particular ethnic and cultural group once established can be difficult to redeem. A key factor in the successful integration of a particular ethnic and cultural groups is careful selection of candidates for immigration and a numerically limit on numbers of immigrants both of which are facilitated by controlled border.[12]
  7. That open borders can lead to infrastructure deficit in a country. This occurs when large scale migration occurs but the infrastructure to support that migration does not get built.[13]
  8. That controlled borders can be used to ensure that new immigrants can afford suitable housing without disadvantaging the existing local population, that they can afford to significantly contribute to the additional infrastructure they will require and that they will be unlikely to become a burden on the taxpayer.[14]

Examples of controlled borders[edit]

  • United States and Mexico share a controlled border near major population centers at the boundary between these two countries.
  • India and Bangladesh share a border with which India is in the process of turning into a controlled border via the completion of a full border fence between the two countries to control the flow of people between the two countries and prevent illegal migration. Large scale illegal Bangladeshi immigration in the past across the open border has entered India creating Bangladeshi slums on the outskirts of many India cities. The Bangladeshi people are expected to soon form the majority of people in India in areas close to the India Bangladeshi border largely as a result of the past and continuing illegal immigration.[15]
  • North Korea and South Korea share a militarized border, known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone and has been in operation since the end of the Korean War in July 1953 when the Korean Armistice Agreement developed the DMZ near the 38th parallel, when the war started. It's meant to keep North Koreans from invading the south and has many landmines and such located in the strip of land. Many North Koreans attempt to cross the border every year, along with the border with China. Even then, only a handful have been able to defect to the South by de-activating the electric fences.

Arguments for open borders[edit]

Advocates for open borders argue for Open Borders on grounds such as the following:

  1. From a human rights perspective, free migration may be seen to complement Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.[16]
  2. American bioethicist Jacob M. Appel has argued that "treating human beings differently, simply because they were born on the opposite side of a national boundary," is inherently unethical. According to Appel, such "birthrights" are only defensible if they serve "useful and meaningful social purposes" (such as inheritance rights, which encourage mothers and fathers to work and save for their children), but the "birthright of nationality" does not do so. Economist and writer Philippe Legrain argues that the countries of the world need migration to help global trade and reduce the occurrence of regional wars.

It has been proposed that borders between the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries be opened.[17] If goods and services and corporations can cross international boundaries without restraint, it is argued, then it does not make sense to impose such extreme restraints on the flow of people who work to make those goods and services.

An extensive reading list of pro-open borders arguments is available on the website Open Borders: The Case, a website advocating and discussing open borders.[18] The authors referenced include Bryan Caplan, Alex Tabarrok, Michael Clemens, Lant Pritchett, Joseph Carens, and many others.

List of states with open borders[edit]

Agreement States Notes
Schengen Agreement and
microstates with open borders
European Union (EU) nations mostly share Open Borders as part of the Schengen Agreement, allowing free flow of people between the member countries. Travel documents are required for travel between the United Kingdom, Ireland, and other countries; and there are entry restrictions on people who are not either EU citizens or residents in the country being entered.
Common Travel Agreement United Kingdom, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man share open borders under the Common Travel Agreement since 1923, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries with minimal (if any) identity documents.
Union State Russia and Belarus share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
Treaty of Peace and Friendship India and Nepal share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement and Realm of New Zealand Though Australia and New Zealand do not share a land border, they allow each other's citizens to travel, live, and work freely in either country without any restrictions, except the requirement to demonstrate citizenship, under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.
Union of South American Nations[citation needed]
[citation needed]

Examples of closed borders[edit]

  • North Korea has a completely sealed border, and does not allow free movement across its borders.
  • Azerbaijan's border with Armenia is closed, due to the state of war between the two countries over the occupation of Armenia of de jure Azerbaijani territory.
  • Turkey's border with Armenia is closed, out of solidarity for Azerbaijan, but only on the Turkish side. Turkey has recently amended this policy, and the border has been opened up without action from Armenia.
  • India and Pakistan share a border that is almost closed due to the hostilities between these two countries.The border is only open at Wagha.
  • Ukraine and Transnistria.[19]
  • Algeria and Morocco. Border completely closed since 1994.
  • The Central African Republic's state of civil war has caused Chad to close all land borders.
  • The Eritrean-Ethiopian War has left longstanding hostilities between the two countries and thus all borders, land and air, are closed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Orbis | Foreign Policy Research Institute" (PDF). 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Optimism and Overpopulation - 94.12". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  5. ^ "The Road to Overpopulation is Roads". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  6. ^ Camarota, Steven A. (2001-09-11). "The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered and Remained in the United States, 1993-2001 | Center for Immigration Studies". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  7. ^ [2][dead link]
  8. ^
  9. ^ Randerson, James; Grant, Harriet; Vidal, John (30 November 2009). "UK should open borders to climate refugees, says Bangladeshi minister". The Guardian (London). 
  10. ^ [3][dead link]
  11. ^ Mulholland, Helene; Travis, Alan (2 June 2011). "Immigration minister denies asylum amnesty". The Guardian (London). 
  12. ^ Smith, Tony. "Ethnicity, Immigration, and The American National Community | Center for Immigration Studies". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  13. ^ Kammer, Jerry (2011-10-17). "Washington Post Cites Population Growth, Then Takes a Pass | Center for Immigration Studies". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  14. ^ Gimpel, James G. "Migration, Immigration and the Politics of Places | Center for Immigration Studies". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  15. ^ "‘Demographic Deluge’: Illegal Migration as a Security Threat to India | Indian Defence Forum". Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  16. ^ Antoine Pécoud and Paul de Guchteneire (Eds): MIGRATION WITHOUT BORDERS, Essays on the Free Movement of People (Berghahn Books, 2007)
  17. ^ Reason Magazine - Open the Borders
  18. ^ "Pro-open borders reading list". Open Borders: The Case. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  19. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • ACME. 2003. Vol. 2.2, themed issue: "Engagements: Borders and Immigration.
  • Abizadeh, Arash. 2008. "Democratic Theory and Border Coercion: No Right to Unilaterally Control Your Own Borders." Political Theory 35.1: 37-65.
  • Bader, Veit. 2005. "The Ethics of Immigration." Constellations 12.3: 331-61.
  • Barry, Brian, and Robert E. Goodin, eds. 1992. Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the Transnational Migration of People and of Money. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Bauder, Harald. 2003. "Equality, Justice, and the Problem of International Borders." ACME 2.2: 165-182.
  • Bauder, Harald. 2012. "Jus domicile: In Pursuit of a Citizenship of Equality and Social Justice." Journal of International Political Theory 8.1–2: 184–196.
  • Blake, Michael. 2003. "Immigration." In A Companion to Applied Ethics, ed. R. G. Frey and C. H. Wellman. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Bosniak, Linda. 2006. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Brubaker, W. R, ed. 1989. Immigration and the Politics of Citizenship in Europe and North America. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  • Carens, Joseph H. 1987. "Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders." The Review of Politics 49.2: 251-73.
  • Chang, Howard F. 1997. "Liberalized Immigration as Free Trade: Economic Welfare and the Optimal Immigration Policy." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 145.5: 1147-244.
  • Cole, Phillip. 2000. Philosophies of Exclusion: Liberal Political Theory and Immigration. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Dauvergne, Catherine. 2008. Making People Illegal: What Globalization Means for Migration and Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dummett, Michael. 2001. On Immigration and Refugees. London: Routledge.
  • Ethics and Economics. 2006. Volume 4.1. Special issue on immigration.
  • Gibney, Mark, ed. 1988. Open Borders? Closed Societies? The Ethical and Political Issues. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Heath, Joseph. 1997. "Immigration, Multiculturalism, and the Social Contract." Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 10.2: 343-61.
  • Miller, David, and Sohail Hashmi, eds. 2001. Boundaries and Justice: Diverse Ethical Perspectives. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Miller, David. 2005. "Immigration: The Case for Limits." In Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, ed. A. I. Cohen and C. H. Wellman. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Riley, Jason L. (2008). Let Them In: The Case for Open Border. Gotham. ISBN 1-59240-349-2. 
  • Schwartz, Warren F., ed. 1995. Justice in Immigration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Swain, Carol M., ed. 2007. Debating Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Torpey, John. 2000. The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Walzer, Michael. 1983. Spheres of Justice: A Defence of Pluralism and Equality. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Wellman, Christopher Heath. 2008. "Immigration and Freedom of Association." Ethics 119: 109-141.