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April 7, 2014
April 7, 2014

The unbearable lightness of immigration policies in Europe

Author: Vera Pinheiro
Categories: Borders, On the crisis
This article is also available in: elesfrpt-pt
The unbearable lightness of immigration policies in Europe

A ‘Golden’ residence permit is on offer to whoever is willing to bring money from outside and invest in the small, poor and crisis-affected Portugal; the same country of 10,000,000 people in which more than 5,000 are now officially homeless. And if you think this happens only in the far Southern West Europe, think again. Brussels has just promoted an extended one-year long visa for tourists, artists, researchers, and students; the very same Europe for which, between 2000 and 2013, over 23,000 migrants died. Four apparently disconnected news which made me think about the direction of the current European immigration policies.

Portugal follows the Greek and Spanish faith

Newsflash this Monday 31st of March in Portuguese tabloids: more than 5,000 people are now homeless in Portugal. According to the National Social Security Institute, at least 4,420 people were already living in public gardens, underground stations, bus stations, car parking spaces, on side-walks or under bridges in 2013. However, that number doesn’t take into account those who sought shelter in abandoned buildings or were homeless in the urban area of Lisbon, where the Holy House of Mercy takes charge. Only here, 509 of a total of 852 homeless were found in the street by 800 volunteers in December 12th last year. Such number is estimated to have doubled or tripled in the last 2 years, thus following the tendency already seen in Greece and Spain. And the similarities are far from ending here. In Portugal, around 2,000,000 of the total 10,000,000 people live with less than 409 € per month. More than half of those who are unemployed do not receive any help from the State. The numbers, recently made public by the National Statistics Institute, do not lie – there is a growing number of poor people. While the majority are getting poorer and poorer, the wealthy minority gets more and more prosperous.

Meanwhile, the new adjustment program became public also this week. More cuts in pensions and public wages were announced. As usual. Now, the real novelty comes from our Deputy Prime Minister, Paulo Portas. In the past two years, around 85,000 people became ineligible to receive any help from the State, because, according to him, they possessed over 100,000 € in their bank accounts. Either he knows something we don’t or he might just be a pretty good damn liar. Either way, one thing is for sure, he was not talking about Jorge Gonçalves, the founder of the Portuguese Commercial Bank (BCP or Banco Comercial Português).

Established in 1985, BCP was the first private bank in democratic Portugal. Having nearly 4.3 million customers worldwide and 201 million € profits by 2008, BCP was rated as the largest private bank in the country. It also guaranteed its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer a 400,000 € monthly salary, 5 cars, 2 chauffeurs, 40 bodyguards, and a private airplane to travel with his wife… A life full of sacrifices from which he only receives a 170,000 € monthly pension nowadays. Why? Because in 2012, following insolvency, BCP had to be rescued by a 3 million € bailout. From whom? The almighty Portuguese Government headed by Pedro Passos Coelho. Whose money with, since we were in the middle of the European sovereign debt crisis by then? From the country’s IMF/EU bailout package, of course! And the best is yet to come. Jorge Gonçalves just prescribed on a 1 million € fine imposed by the Bank of Portugal as well as on a former court prohibition to regain executive functions. As an old Portuguese proverb says “In the land of blind, whoever has an eye shall be king”.

European citizenship for sale?

Second newsflash of the week: a Chinese man holding a Portuguese golden residence permit was arrested after being accused of fiscal fraud back home. Originally created to attract some capital from outside in these times of crisis, golden residence permits are now strongly contested in Portugal. Why? Because you can get one of those simply by: (a) purchasing any type of real estate of at least 500,000 €; (b) transferring capital of at least 1 million € to be invested in any type of business and company; or (c) creating at least 10 permanent jobs. Whatever the investment is, it must be maintained at least for 5 years following the permit grant. The residence permit is first issued for one year, being then renewed for successive periods of two years. The holders can also ask family reunification, gain access to a permanent residence permit as well as to Portuguese citizenship. Last, but not least, all of this includes access to the Schengen space. And this is why golden permits made in Portugal are now officially “The best investor visa scheme in Europe”. True story (http://goldenresidencepermit.com/).

The first golden permit was delivered in October 2012 directly from by current Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas’ hands to Muthu Nesamanimaram, an Indian businessman who created over 800 jobs, promising 600 more, in Portuguese hotels and wine. China, though, seems to be our main admirer. By March 24th this year, 612 of the total 772 (meaning 79%) golden permits were given to Chinese only (and there are currently 400 pending). Millionaires like Xiadong Wang, who had just bought a luxurious house in Cascais. And who turned out to be looked for by Interpol. His capture, last week, re-opened the discussion about the legitimacy of such permits. The opposition states that the golden permits will transform the country into a perfect paradise for fraud. The journalist Henrique Monteiro adds that the golden permit is “hideous and immoral”: “Golden permits for those who have money? Brilliant! Let’s invite dealers as well, who swim in millions and will certainly help us get out of this crisis! The economic one, of course! Because we will not, for sure, get out of the moral crisis – the same that dictated the economic one”.

A modern, capitalism-based version of Darwin’s “natural selection”

Meanwhile in Brussels, our ex-Prime Minister and current President of the European Commission promotes a new legislation to facilitate Schengen’s space access to foreigners by the beginning of 2015. A study carried out by the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (DGEI) concluded that, in 2012, EU lost around 6.6 million potential travellers amongst the current six biggest travel nations – China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Ukraine. Consequently, the DGEI estimates an annual loss of around 4,200 to 12,600 million € and 80,000 to 250,000 jobs. All due to the complexity of the existing system regarding the visa requirements. That is why the EU has declared this Tuesday that the new Travel Visa intends to stimulate Europe’s economy. In particular, tourism and associated activities, like the transportation industry, entertainment or restoration, targeted by EU to be the main drivers of Europe’s future growth and employment. The new short-term Visa, which may be extended up to two years, will also benefit artists, researchers and students willing to spend more time in Europe.

Nonetheless, let’s not be overwhelmed by such an idyllic scenario. Not when, in the same week, the numbers of migrants who tried to reach Europe between 2000 and 2013 became known. 23,000! Sure, 23,000 is not such a big number compared to the aforementioned 6.6 million. But my feeling is that mathematics is not really the problem. Applied mathematics, or better said economics, is. Unfortunately for them, those 23,000 were not coming from big travelling nations. Unfortunately for them, they were coming from countries devastated by war, dictators or famine. Unfortunately for them, they had to travel because there was simply no future back home. They had no return ticket and they’d be happy if they made it until the end. Their dreamland – our Europe, who shows nothing but disgust. No pity for those who do not have the right colour, eye-shape, photographic camera or style; which dehumanizes the thousands that never reached the other side of the Mediterranean Sea; which prefers to be pragmatic in electoral times, rather than solve a real migration problem; which cares more about 10 billion € lost with “potential travellers”, rather the over 20,000 real lives lost on our shores. It’s the same old Europe haunted by its colonial heritage, which cries out loud “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).

History should be made to remember, not to be repeated

One of the most peculiar classes of History that I had back in school concerns the XV century. Particularly, the period when Portugal was praised as a world’s super economy. A story made of brave men who discovered the unknown New World, through sea storms and monsters, shedding light on the uneducated, “uncivilised” Indians in Brazil (which they first mistook for India, hence the name given to the natives), Africa and Asia. A story that can be summarised as follow. Portuguese sailed from Lisbon towards the African Coast, where they kidnapped African men and women from their homes. They then sailed towards Brazil. After leaving some priests on land – so they could enlighten the reign of darkness, the Portuguese exchanged Africans for some sugar and cotton. These were then shipped to be traded in India, from where Portuguese could finally bring very expensive silk and spices back home. All this just to avoid the very complicated and over-taxed Asia-to-Europe Spices Route by land.

As a story, it is quite brilliant, isn’t it?

As part of the real History, it is not so brilliant. Even a child of no more than 12 years old could remark that all of our mighty Empire had been built upon human slavery! And yet, what is currently happening is not that far away from what I’ve just described. The old-and-so-far-very-respected Europe has been acting for far too long in its own interests, putting its finger here and there whenever convenient, making its own rules and proclaiming them as the right ones. Immigration has existed as long as Humankind itself. What seems to be a modern novelty is this idea of managing people’s displacement through a filter purely dedicated to obtaining the maximum economic profit. Yesterday, African men and women were traded for mere spices. Today, for promoting the survival of the wealthiest. At what cost? Exclusion. By excluding the poor. By excluding the hardship. By excluding the marginalised. And to be honest, this contemporary cult, worshipping the Profitus Maximus God really scares me. Not because I don’t know where it comes from. But because I don’t know where it will lead us to.

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The unbearable lightness of immigration policies in Europe by Vera Pinheiro is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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