Open border

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Border between Spain and Portugal, members of the Schengen Agreement. Their border is marked with a simple sign and no passport checks or customs controls.

An open border is a border that enables free movement of people (and often of goods) between jurisdictions with few or no restrictions on movement, that is lacking substantive border control. A border may be an open border due to intentional legislation allowing free movement of people across the border (de jure), or a border may be an open border due to a lack of legal controls, a lack of adequate enforcement or adequate supervision of the border (de facto). An example of the former is the Schengen Agreement between most members of the European Economic Area (EFTA and the EU). An example of the latter has been the border between Bangladesh and India, which is becoming controlled. The term "open borders" applies only to the flow of people, not the flow of goods and services,[1] and only to borders between political jurisdictions, not to mere boundaries of privately owned property.[2]

Open borders are the norm for borders between subdivisions within the boundaries of sovereign states, though some countries do have controlled borders within the boundaries of the state (for example in the People's Republic of China between the mainland and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau). Open borders are also usual between member states of federations (such as the United States of America), though again in some instances movement between member states may be controlled via an internal passport system. Federations and confederations typically maintain external border controls through a collective border control system, though they sometimes have open borders with other non-member states (particularly enclaves, such as Switzerland and the European Union) through special international agreements.

Pervasive international border control is a relatively recent phenomenon in world history. In the past, many states had open international borders either in practice or due to a lack of any legal restriction. Many authors, such as John Maynard Keynes, have identified the early 20th century and particularly World War I as the point when such controls became common.[3]

There have been sporadic attempts to promote global open borders as a viable policy option.[4] Open borders quickly became popular after 1889.[citation needed] The International Emigration Conference held in Rome in May 1924 stated that anybody has the right to immigrate to a different country if they wanted to.[citation needed] Before the 1880s, migration to the United States was not fully controlled. During World War I it became easier for people to migrate from their country of origin to foreign countries.[citation needed] After World War II, countries were looking for many new workers, and Germany issued a guest work program to attract more people to work.[citation needed] Later, in the 1970s to 1980s strict borders were reinstated in industrialized countries.[citation needed] Currently, immigration is more restricted and harder for low-skilled and low-income people.[4]

Types of borders[edit]

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 why they meet the special conditions which allow 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. Whenever a conditionally open border is allowed, a considerable effort is often required to ensure that border controls do not break down to such an extent that it becomes an open border situation. An example of a conditionally open border is a border of any country which allows movement of asylum seekers due to application of either 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. Another example is the border between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The two countries allow unrestricted movement of their own citizens, but in order to enjoy such movement across the Irish Sea, those same citizens may be required to provide evidence at seaports and airports that they are UK or Irish nationals. These checks are by the police, not immigration officers. (As of October 2018, there are no such controls on the highly porous land border between them).

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.[5] Most international borders are by legislative intent of the controlled border type. However, where there is a lack of adequate internal enforcement or where the borders are land borders, the border is often controlled only on part of the border, while other parts of the border may remain open to such an extent that it may be considered 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 example of an extant closed border is the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea. The Berlin Wall could also have been called a closed border.

Borders can be open or and closed based on: entry status, entry duration, entry qualifications, entrant rights and obligations, and entry quotas.[6] Entry status refers to the occupation of someone when and if they are allowed to cross a border, whether they are a student, worker, soldier, immigrant. One's status effects the chances of being permitted to cross a border. “Most states control border crossing by limiting the duration of any visit.”[6] Entry qualifications are restrictions based on factors such as health, age, income, religion, race. “Many countries, including Canada and Singapore, will admit wealthy immigrants who can demonstrate an intention and capacity to invest in the country.” Entrants rights and obligations are the restrictions that will be placed on those who have already been permitted to cross a border: you must follow certain rules and regulations given by the government to be allowed to stay in that country. A government may allow you to take up residency but may not allow you to work, and those who are allowed to work may not be able to find work due to the restrictions and forms of employment allowed. Entry quotas are restrictions based on the number of immigrants allowed across a border within a certain frame of time: if you meet all of the qualifications to cross a border, but the country you want to enter has already met its quota for allowing immigrants inside, you may still not be allowed to enter.

As seen from the examples below, there are differing degrees of "openness" of a border, the nature of which depends on whether or not there are physical passport controls in place (and enforced). Passport control by police or immigration officers may be in place on some kinds of border but citizens of the destination territory or participating territories are permitted to cross using at most an identity card without any further approval, restrictions or conditions. Examples of the most open type of border include the Schengen zone or the [UK/Ireland] Common Travel Area, where transit across the inter-state frontiers are entirely uncontrolled,[a] and third-country illegal immigration is controlled by internal policing as with any other kind of clandestine entry. Examples of near-open borders include the border between the Common Travel Area (on the one hand) and the Schengen Zone (on the other) which, despite having full passport control, is an internal EU border that EU citizens can pass freely without any conditions, other than an identity card. Non-EU nationals are subject to full passport and visa control measures at airports and some seaports. A hybrid of these two possibilities is the border between Russia and Belarus in the Union State which lacks any physical control but formally foreigners are not permitted to use an uncontrolled crossing.

Political debate[edit]

The modern debate around open borders is not clearly delineated into the traditional left-right political spectrum. Some groups traditionally seen as left-wing, like Neoliberals, support restricted immigration, while others like Donald Trump reject open border policies.[8] Similarly, some figures on the left wing, like Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders advocate for the bringing back of humane practices

Arguments for open borders[edit]

  1. Open borders advocates argue that free migration is the most effective way to reduce world poverty. Migrants from developing countries can earn higher wages after moving to a more developed country,[9] usually lifting them from 'developing world poverty' to 'developed world poverty'. They also send remittances to relatives in their home country, the flow of remittances being estimated to be around three times the global foreign aid spending reported by the OECD.[10]
  2. A literature summary by economist Michael Clemens leads to an estimate that open borders would result in an increase of 67-147% in GWP (gross world product), with a median estimate of a doubling of world GDP.[11] One estimate placed the economic benefits at 78 trillion.[12]
  3. 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.[13]
  4. 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.
  5. Open borders cannot be dismissed as a utopian idea, argues Harald Bauder, because they do not propose an alternative way to organize human society but rather are a critique of closed or controlled borders. This critique, however, invites the search for practical as well as radical solutions to the problematic consequences of contemporary migration practices, including the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, the US–Mexico border, and elsewhere.[14]
  6. Restrictions on mobility can only be justified if it can be shown that those restrictions prevent significant harm. Since research indicates that open borders will be better for both the natives and the migrants, and at the very least have not been shown to cause major harm, those restrictions are unjustified.[15]
  7. Immigrants are entrepreneurial with high labor force participation and have specialized skills giving them the opportunity to enter underserved markets and create businesses, increasing the number of jobs available in America. Author Thomas E. Lehman, has written articles on the controversial topic of opening Americas borders. In his article “The Benefits of Open Immigration” Lehman states that it is often thought that the policy of open immigration would lead to immigrants willing to work for less pay.[16]

It has been proposed that borders between the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries be opened. If goods and services and corporations can cross international boundaries without restraint, it is argued, then it does not make sense to restrain on the flow of people who work to make those goods and services.[17] Some estimate that open borders where people are free to move and find work could result in 78 trillion dollars in economic gains.[18]

Those in favor of a global migration policy advocate the adoption of a migratory regulatory system and new criteria to better guaranteed all rights (civil, social and political) for all immigrants.[19] It is necessary to expand migration policy to create better management of global migratory system. Some propose a new meaning and understanding of global citizenship to establish a border global migration system. Migration is under the control and management of local governments and officials, but it is both a domestic political issue, and a global issue which needs joint efforts from different countries.

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.[20][21][22]
  2. Large-scale immigration from poorer countries into richer countries can create a "brain drain" in the source country, where educated professionals leave their home country to live elsewhere, depriving their home countries of an educated workforce. For example, in 2010 there were more Ethiopian doctors living in Chicago than there were in Ethiopia itself.[23]

Examples of open borders[edit]


Uniquely, the Norwegian special territory of Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone. No person requires a visa or residence permit and anyone may live and work in Svalbard indefinitely, regardless of citizenship. The Svalbard Treaty grants treaty nationals equal right of abode as Norwegian nationals. So far, non-treaty nationals have been admitted visa-free as well. "Regulations concerning rejection and expulsion from Svalbard" are in force on a non-discriminatory basis. Grounds for exclusion include lack of means of support, and violation of laws or regulations.[24][25][26] Same-day visa-free transit at Oslo Airport is possible when travelling on non-stop flights to Svalbard.

List of groups of states with common open borders[edit]

Agreement Since States Map Notes
Schengen Agreement and
microstates with open borders
1995 Open Border - Schengen Zone.png Most European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations share open inter-state borders as part of the Schengen Agreement, allowing free flow of people between nations: controls on entry to the entire Schengen area are carried out at the first country of entry. As of 2019, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are members of the EU but not parties to the Schengen Agreement.

Border controls persist for travel between the Schengen area and the Anglo–Irish 'Common Travel Area' (see below), though these are relatively lightweight for EU/EFTA/Swiss citizens. In each case, there are more exacting entry restrictions on travellers who are not in these categories.

Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City are de facto Schengen states (officially not members but have no border control on the border with their respective enclaving states).

Nordic Passport Union 1952 NordicPassportUnion.png The Nordic Passport Union is one of the earliest open border agreements.[27] Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden allows citizens of the Nordic countries to travel and reside in another Nordic country (and Svalbard) without any travel documentation (e.g. a passport or national identity card) or a residence permit.

Since 25 March 2001, these five states have also been part of the Schengen Area. However, citizens of the Nordic Passport Union countries enjoy extra rights within the Nordic area, not available under Schengen, such as less paperwork if moving to a different Nordic country, and fewer requirements for naturalization or citizenship. Within the Nordic area, any Nordic identity documentation (e.g. a driving license) is valid as proof of identity for Nordic citizens because of the Nordic Passport Union, while a national identity card or a passport can be required in other Schengen countries.

The Faroe Islands are part of the Nordic Passport Union but not the Schengen Area, while Greenland and Svalbard are outside both. However, Greenland has an open border with all Nordic countries, and allows Nordic citizens to enter, settle and work without requiring a passport or permits.

Common Travel Area 1923 Open Border - Common Travel Area.png Ireland and the United Kingdom (together with the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man, on behalf of which the UK is responsible for foreign affairs) share open borders under the Common Travel Area arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries (and dependencies) without any need for identity documents (other than as routinely required for air travel). Controls on entry to the entire Common Travel Area are carried out at the first country of entry.
Union State 1996 Open Border - Union State.png Russia and Belarus share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries without any border checking. However this border is totally closed for foreigners.
Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950
Open Border - India, Nepal, Bhutan.png India and Nepal share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
Treaty of Friendship 1949 India and Bhutan share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
CA4 Border Control Agreement 2006 Open Border - CA4.png The CA4 Border Control Agreement acts similarly to the Schengen Agreement, with full freedom of movement for citizens of the countries and foreign nationals. However, foreign nationals travelling by air must obtain the necessary permits and undergo checks at border checkpoints.
Andean Community 2007 Open Border - Andean Community.png Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru share open borders under the arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries without any need for identity documents (other than as routinely required for air travel). Controls on entry to the entire Andean Community are carried out at the first country of entry.
CARICOM Single Market and Economy 2009 Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago share open borders under the arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries without any need for identity documents (other than as routinely required for air travel). Controls on entry to the entire CARICOM are carried out at the first country of entry.
Gulf Cooperation Council 1981 Open Border - Gulf.png Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman share open borders under the Gulf Cooperation Council arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries without any need for identity documents. Controls on entry to the entire GCC are carried out at the first country of entry.

(In June 2017 Saudi Arabia closed their border with fellow GCC member Qatar, following a diplomatic crisis).[28]

East African Community 2000 Africa-countries-EAC.png Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi share open borders under the East African Community arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in EAC member states.

As recently as January 2018, there has still been difficulties in the open borders agreement due to tariff disputes between member states.[29]

Examples of controlled borders[edit]

  • The border between the United States and Mexico is controlled. This border is the most frequently crossed controlled international boundary in the world,[30][31][32] with approximately 350 million legal crossings being made annually.[31][33][34]
  • India and Bangladesh share a border—which India is in the process of turning into a controlled border by the completion of a full border fence between the two countries to control the flow of people and prevent illegal migration. Large scale illegal Bangladeshi immigration in the past across the open border has led to Bangladeshi slums on the outskirts of many Indian cities. Bangladeshi people are expected to soon form the majority in areas of India close to the border largely as a result of past and continuing illegal immigration.[35]
  • Entry into any of the U.S. minor outlying Islands requires permission from United States Armed Forces, and entry to the territory of American Samoa for US citizens requires a return ticket.[36]

Examples of closed borders[edit]

The information in this section may not be complete or up to date. Prospective travellers should check with government sources for the most current information.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As of November 2018, because of illegal onward migration from Africa and Asia, identity checks are being enforced at Italy's borders with France, Switzerland and Austria.[7]
  • Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden temporarily imposed controls on their borders due to the 2010– European migrant crisis.[47]


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  2. ^ "Definition of "open border"". Archived from the original on 2016-05-03. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  3. ^ Keynes, John Maynard (1920). "2". The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  4. ^ a b Casey, John P. (2009). "Open Borders: Absurd Chimera or Inevitable Future Policy?". International Migration. 48 (5): 14–62. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2435.2009.00514.x.
  5. ^ "Orbis | Foreign Policy Research Institute" (PDF). 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2014-05-26.
  6. ^ a b Smith, Rogers (2013). Citizenship, borders, and human needs. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  7. ^ Migrants risk their lives to move on from Italy – The Economist, 1 November 2018
  8. ^ Bowman, Sam (13 April 2011). "Immigration Restrictions Made us Poorer". Adam Smith Institute. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  9. ^ "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the U.S. Border – Working Paper 148". Center For Global Development. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  10. ^ "Event". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  11. ^ Clemens, Michael A (2011). "Economics and Emigration : Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 25 (3): 83–106. doi:10.1257/jep.25.3.83.
  12. ^ "A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer". The Economist. July 13, 2017.
  13. ^ "Migration Without Borders:". Oxford; New York: Berghahn Books. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  14. ^ "Migration Borders Freedom". London: Routledge. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  15. ^ Caplan, Bryan (2012-01-01). "Why Should We Restrict Immigration?". Cato Journal. 32 (1): 5–24.
  16. ^ "The Benefits of Open Immigration : Foundation for Economic Education : United States". Foundation for Economic Education. 1995-12-01. Retrieved 2019-03-21.
  17. ^ Tim Cavanaugh (2006-04-16). "Open the Borders". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  18. ^ "A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-07-17.
  19. ^ Raffaele Marchetti (Summer 2008). "Toward a World Migratory Regime". Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies. 15 (2): 471–487. doi:10.2979/gls.2008.15.2.471.
  20. ^ "Legislative Updates | Federation for American Immigration Reform". Archived from the original on August 22, 2011.
  21. ^ "Optimism and Overpopulation". Retrieved 2014-05-26.
  22. ^ "The Road to Overpopulation is Roads". Retrieved 2014-05-26.
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  24. ^ "Entry and residence". Governor of Svalbard. Governor of Svalbard. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
  25. ^ "Regulations" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  26. ^ "Immigrants warmly welcomed".
  27. ^ "The Nordic Passport Convention – Nordic cooperation".
  28. ^ a b "Qatar-Gulf crisis: How it all got started on June 5". Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  29. ^ "EAC states' reluctance to open borders hurts regional trade". The East African.
  30. ^ Edwin Mora (May 19, 2010). "Senate Democratic Whip Compares Sealing the Mexican Border to Trying to Keep Drugs Off of I-95". Cybercast News Service. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  31. ^ a b Golson, Barry; Thia Golson (2008). Retirement Without Borders: How to Retire Abroad—in Mexico, France, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, and Other Sunny, Foreign Places. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-7432-9701-1. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  32. ^ Glenday, Craig (2009). Guinness World Records 2009. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 457. ISBN 978-0-553-59256-6. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  33. ^ "US, Mexico open first new border crossing in 10 years". AFP. Washington. January 12, 2010. Archived from the original on 2014-02-28. Retrieved December 3, 2012. The US-Mexico border is the busiest in the world, with approximately 350 million crossings per year.
  34. ^ "The United States–Mexico Border Region at a Glance" (PDF). United States-Mexico Border Health Commission. New Mexico State University. Retrieved December 3, 2012. In 2001, over 300 million two-way border crossings took place at the 43 POEs.
  35. ^ "'Demographic Deluge': Illegal Migration as a Security Threat to India | Indian Defence Forum". Retrieved 2014-05-26.
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  37. ^ "North Korea fully reopens border crossing". Archived from the original on 2016-08-07.
  38. ^ Grigoryan, Aleksandr; Khachatryan, Knar; Ter-Matevosyan, Vahram (2019-01-02). "Armenia-Turkey border opening: what determines the attitude of Armenians?". Caucasus Survey. 7 (1): 25–43. doi:10.1080/23761199.2018.1499298. ISSN 2376-1199.
  39. ^ "Ukraine blocks access to exit from Transdniestria for Russian citizens". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  40. ^ Departures Casa Blanca Airport (CMN) retrieved 1 September 2017
  41. ^ "One way ticket for Druze Syrian Brides". Archived from the original on April 11, 2009.
  42. ^ "Israeli Druze to go on historic visit to Syria". ynet. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  43. ^ "Hebrew press sees thaw in Syria-Israel relations". Maan News Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  44. ^ "Belarusian Border Committee Knows Not What Happens At Belarus-Russia Border". Charter 97. 12 Oct 2016. Retrieved 20 Nov 2016.
  45. ^ "РСТ: иностранные туристы не смогут въехать в Россию через пропускной пункт под Смоленском". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  46. ^ "Почему граждане ЕС больше не могут въехать в Россию через Беларусь". DW. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  47. ^ "Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control". European Commission. Retrieved 16 February 2016.

Further reading[edit]