Global Ethics Review: The Model International Mobility Convention 2.0, with Michael Doyle

April 27, 2021

ALEX WOODSON: Welcome to Global Ethics Review. I'm Alex Woodson from Carnegie Council, the world's catalyst for ethical action. 

In this podcast series, we'll be connecting Carnegie Council's work and current events with our senior fellows, senior staff, and friends of our organization. You'll hear from leading experts on artificial intelligence and technology, migration, climate change governance, and U.S. foreign policy and global engagement. 

This week, I'm speaking with Professor Michael Doyle. He is a university professor at Columbia University, affiliated with the School of International and Public Affairs, the Department of Political Science, and the Law School.

Professor Doyle is also a senior fellow at Carnegie Council for the Model International Mobility Convention or MIMC. In this podcast, we discussed this initiative, which is focused on creating "a better set of rules for the movement of people across borders." We also touched on the Biden administration and the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected migration across the world. 

For more on MIMIC, you can go to carnegiecouncil.org or internationalmobilityconvention.org

But for now, here's my talk with Professor Michael Doyle. 

ALEX WOODSON: Professor Michael Doyle, great to speak with you. Just to get started, what is the Model International Mobility Convention (MIMC), and how did it come about?

MICHAEL DOYLE: The Convention is what we call the "realistic utopia." That is, it was designed to create a better set of rules for the movement of people across borders. At the same time, it was designed to be realistic enough that we could imagine governments of the world as the world is today, that is, sovereign states, if they were better inspired and had a longer-run view on the future, signing this Convention. So it is not utopian. It is a realistic utopia. That was what we had in mind.

Thirty-plus experts got together from 2015 to 2017 and developed this Model Convention, a set of rules that is both comprehensive and cumulative. It is comprehensive in that unlike other attempts to think about the movement of people across borders, it covers all the different statuses from a temporary visitor through a tourist through a foreign student, a laborer, a migrant, an investor, family reunification, and then the forced migrants. So it covers all of these different reasons for which people might be moving across borders. 

Second of all, it's cumulative. The basic insight is that if you are a visitor, you only need to be able to realize a few of your rights. If you get run over by a car, you need emergency medical attention. If you run someone else over in a car you have rented, you need fair access to the courts, and you need your basic freedom of expression and religion, etc. But you don't necessarily have a right to a job in most countries, nor will you likely have a right to vote.

As you move across the statuses we described—from tourist, you need to have your contracts honored; foreign students need to have access to a university and a transcript when they're done; labor migrants need equal pay for equal work, etc., all the way up to a refugee, and a refugee needs all of their human rights that have been denied by the home country, and they need those rights in the country of asylum. So comprehensive and cumulative are the two big insights that we came up with.

ALEX WOODSON: We talked about this in 2019. A lot of things in the world have changed since then. I imagine some aspects of MIMC have changed as well. How has this developed and evolved in the last couple of years?

MICHAEL DOYLE: In the world, good news and bad news. The good news—and I hate to be so political—is that the Trump administration was deeply hostile to any notion of an equitable, stable, orderly regime for international migration. Migrants were treated like threats no matter what. That is, there was a negative stereotyping of just about all forms of migrants with one exception—Norwegians, who are very nice people, but nonetheless they were the only ones who escaped these denunciations. So we no longer have the Trump administration with us. I know that sounds political, but from the standpoint of migration and refugees it was a record of abuse. So we have a much more sensible regime, in my opinion, with Mr. Biden, and that is some good news.

The bad news is that the crises that affect and drive refugees across borders have not been resolved. Indeed, more have been added to them since 2018 and 2019. A major crisis in Ethiopia in the Tigray Province had driven tens of thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands across borders. We do not yet have an adequate count, and we don't know where they have all gone.

The refugee crisis that brought the Rohingya to Bangladesh—no resolution of that. The crises that brought the Venezuelans in large numbers into Colombia—no resolution of that. The hurricanes in Central America that affected deeply Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, the hurricanes in 2020 have contributed to drive people north looking for a new livelihood, escaping from those horrendous conditions. That's the bad part. So we have not seen much.

It's a mixed picture. No major big steps forward, continuing refugee crises, but now with the change in the United States we have an administration that is at least in their hearts prepared to do something more. It's a mixed picture in the world.

You also asked a second question, which I would be happy to address: What have we been doing with MIMC to respond to that?

We have been doing three things. The first thing we have done is we have joined the Carnegie Council, which is something we are immensely grateful for. As a home, it is exactly the right home. This is an institution—I don't need to tell you—committed to doing good in the world with one foot very much on the ground. It is designed to do practical good, so I think we fit very well into that Carnegie identity. We are delighted to be associated with it in the way that we are. That is some good news.

Another piece of development which is very important is that the Model International Mobility Convention was drafted by 30-plus experts, but overwhelmingly they were from North America and Europe. We had voices coming from elsewhere in the world, but in my opinion not quite enough. One of the things we created on arriving at Carnegie is this network, a leadership network, to help further develop the Convention as it needs to adjust and second of all to help promote it. This includes charter members from South Africa, South Korea, London, Brazil in South America from Rio de Janeiro, a former mayor from Ecuador, and an eminent human rights lawyer from Bangladesh. This group is now providing the leadership of MIMC, so it has a genuine global footprint in ways that we all think are important. 

Lastly, we have done some developmental work, that is, rethinking and developing some of the ideas including ones that are highly practical that can be used today. MIMC is a long-run reform agenda designed for the next 20 years, but within it is a series of ideas that can be used today, and the mobility visa proposal is one of them. We are also working on what responsibility sharing might look like in practice. We just finished a paper, that is, Mark Wood, Janine Prantl and myself, that outlines what responsibility sharing could look like, and we were writing it for a law review. So those are some of the things we have been doing.

ALEX WOODSON: Definitely. I think in the coming months we will be speaking about some of those developments on the podcast and in other forums as well.

I want to go back to the question about how migration has changed over the past couple of years. The biggest story from the least year has been the COVID-19 pandemic obviously. Did that change your thinking on migration at all? Did that change the work of MIMC, or did it just reaffirm that you need to do this work and need to do it on a quicker timescale?

MICHAEL DOYLE: At the principle level of a more orderly and humane network for the movement of people across borders, those principles are simply reaffirmed by the global crisis. We need to approach this in a solidaristic cooperative way if we are ever going to address COVID-19. We feel like we are still connected to where the future is going, if not more so.

But frankly there are a lot of things that were surprising for us. We have a standard of refuge, that is, a standard of what constitutes a refugee or an asylum seeker who should get asylum, that focused on an external threat to your life. So we broadened the conventional notion of a refugee, somebody being persecuted by a state, for example, for race, religion, or nationality, to anyone who is fleeing to save their life from an external threat.

That raises the big question that came up with COVID-19 which we had not thought about back in 2015 and 2016: What about a pandemic disease? How should a mobility convention respond to a pandemic disease? It was a big question. Clearly a pandemic is partly external, that is, you are catching an external virus, but it is the internal effects on you that are making you vulnerable. In some cases you may have to leave the area in which you live because it cannot respond to the pandemic.

On the other hand, there is nothing worse than people spreading the disease by moving around without any constraints. In other words, a number of our assumptions were exploded by the impact of this disease, which means that this leadership network I just described to you is going to take this on as an issue in the coming year, hold a workshop, and ask: "What do we need to do to think about a better set of rules for when people can move and when they shouldn't move in the context of a pandemic?" Just today as we speak, President Biden imposed a travel ban on 80 percent of the world's countries. That is pretty new and striking, and he is not necessarily wrong. That may be the best way to respond.

On the other hand, would it be better to allow people to travel but just quarantine them or require evidence of vaccines and allow them to travel? We are totally up in the air on these questions. None of us predicted the pandemic, so we need to do some heavy-duty thinking in the months and years ahead to think about what are the right rules on the movement of people across borders in light of the fact that this is likely to be not our last pandemic, that we are likely to have something like this happen again.

ALEX WOODSON: I want to speak about the Biden Administration. In the first exchange you seemed to have a much more positive view of the Biden administration than the Trump administration in terms of how they are handling migration. I don't want to get into the specifics of the whole refugee numbers and all of that, because we are recording this on April 20 and it will be out in a few days, and the situation seems to be changing by the minute and by the hour in some ways.

Broadly speaking, what makes you optimistic about the Biden administration in terms of migration? Again, not speaking specifically about the refugee number, 15,000, 62,000, or whatever it may be, but what are your impressions of how he is thinking about this issue in relation to MIMC and the work you have been doing?

MICHAEL DOYLE: I would say I'm guardedly optimistic. That is, to put it too simply, many I have spoken with who are in the administration have really good hearts but an unclear head when it comes to this issue.

What do I mean by that? President Biden spoke about raising the refugee resettlement numbers back to if not above the level that was promised by President Obama back in 2016, and I think that is the right thing to do. The United States can easily resettle 125,000 refugees through resettlement each year. That is a good thing.

They strongly condemned the way in which the Trump administration handled the issue of families crossing the border, the "incarceration," so to speak, of children and the separation of children from parents. All of that they saw as a humanitarian—"travesty" is maybe too strong a word, but that's where they are going. So their hearts were just right.

The 2020 immigration bill that is being introduced in Congress has a number of very good features attached to it including, for example, opening up a pathway for undocumented immigrants to someday, through a lengthy procedure, become both documented and indeed naturalized at some point. All these things strike me as the right thing to do.

But as you alluded to in your question, over the past month we have seen the refugee resettlement numbers jump all around. At first there was an announcement: "No, we're going to keep the Trump numbers," which were about 15,000, way below what we should be doing as a country. Then, a few days later, after there was a storm of protest: "Oh, we have all new numbers," and as you say, we will hear in a few days what those numbers are.

On the border they rightly said that we will provide refuge for unaccompanied children and protect them, and we won't separate children from parents. All that was a good thing and the right thing to do, but they didn't plan for the very likely effects, which is that people who have been waiting for the past couple of years to try to get into the United States, either genuine asylum seekers or ordinary migrants trying to get in in one form or another, would take this as a signal that it's time to move north in large numbers.

I saw numbers that indicate that the flow across the border is one of the largest it has been in many, many years. Was that the plan? If so, why so little preparation? Is the right way to handle it? Should all the processing take place in the United States? Or would it be better to have continued some of the Trump policy of doing processing in Mexico but do it in a more humane, well-financed, and protective kind of way? All of this stuff seems to be invented on the fly in ways that are very confusing.

He stopped building the wall, that is, stopped using Defense Department funds, in my opinion illegally taken from the Defense Department budget and applied to wall construction, which I think was the right thing to do. On the other hand, other funds applied to the wall continue to be spent, and there are still court cases in Texas and elsewhere where the administration is claiming eminent domain over property whose purpose is to build a wall. So again, the wall is stopped, but it has not really stopped. What do you do with what's left over? Do you take it down? Who knows what?

Again, I don't think they could have come in with a totally worked-out policy given the COVID-19 crisis and given the chaos associated with Mr. Trump's attempt to overturn the election, all of which we have to put in our minds when we think about how they are doing, but it has been a little bit chaotic as a rollout of an immigration asylum policy over the past month or two.

ALEX WOODSON: I want to stay on that subject and speak a little bit more specifically about MIMC. If we take the example of an unaccompanied minor coming from Central America, which, as you mentioned, has been devastated by hurricanes and lots of other issues. They make their way up through Mexico and get to the Southern border. If we are living in a world where MIMC has been accepted by the United States, accepted by Mexico, and accepted by lots of countries in the world, what changes exactly for this unaccompanied minor who does not know anyone in the United States and does not have his parents? What does that look like in this new world?

MICHAEL DOYLE: This is not something that we have a lot of focus on in the treaty, except that the principles of humanity and human rights and the protection for people who are vulnerable are deeply embedded in it.

The first thing you would do is find the child's parents and return the child to the parent if that is feasible because children on their own are extremely vulnerable, and so they would need all the protections that the American Department of Health and Human Services or the Red Cross or whoever could make sure and provide, but the first thing would be to return them to their parents, to find out where their parents are, wherever they are. And if for some reason their parents are in the United States, they should, needless to say, be handed over to their parents here. If their parents are in some other country, the child should be, to the extent you can, safely be returned to them. So that is the first instance.

If the family then is applying for immigration to the United States, they should go through a set process, and MIMC envisages that countries would identify their labor needs in a much more systematic way and make the visas that would fill those labor needs, that is, labor needs that could not be filled by citizens who are already residents of the United States, open for application to anyone from anywhere who met security and other conditions for applying for an immigrant visa so that they would have a much better chance of actually having a visa, that is, a legal permit to entry, before they set off on their journey toward the border. So, we would be filling the very large U.S. demand for foreign labor through legal pathways much more intensively.

The second thing is that it envisages radical reforms in temporary visas for certain jobs that the country wants to open for temporary workers, and there would be more of them to fill those needs. What would be different is that individuals would have better protections on these MIMC-based temporary visas than currently exist. They would have, for example, multiple visas so that they could go back and forth to their home in a foreign country if that was relevant. They would have portable pensions, so pension rights they earned during their temporary labor would be available, etc.

For refugees and asylum seekers, that is, people fleeing from persecution or to save their lives, there would be a well-established system that would assess their claim rapidly at the border or by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in assessment areas to determine whether or not they had a claim as a refugee or a genuine asylum seeker, and if they did, they would be taken in and provided with assistance for temporary or long-term integration.

So in this world we would have a much more regular, humane, and well-established system for both permanent and temporary labor migration and for processing refugees. That would be the system. That is the ideal embedded in the Convention. Now there is always a distance between an ideal set of rules or laws and implementation, so however good the treaty might be if it were someday signed, it still has to be implemented well, and we will need to make sure it is, but at least the rules would be more reasonable and humane.

ALEX WOODSON: This ties in with the article you and Elie Peltz wrote for the Ethics & International Affairs website: "Finding Refuge Through Employment: Worker Visas as a Complementary Pathway for Refugee Resettlement." I will link to that in the transcript and encourage everyone to read that. It sounds like a much more orderly process.

We are speaking broadly today about migration. You mentioned a few other issues that you are thinking about in your first answer. Maybe you could expand on those. What are some other migration issues? In the United States we are very focused on the southern border and the COVID-19 pandemic. As you look across the world what are some other issues that you think will maybe inform your work in the coming months?

MICHAEL DOYLE: One of the things we have to get much more serious about, both in the United States and around the world, is the question of responsibility sharing. Eighty-six percent of the world's refugees are being taken care of by developing countries, usually by the immediate neighbors of some civil war.

Most Syrians today who have had to flee the country are not in Europe, the United States, or anywhere else. They are in Lebanon, they are in Jordan, they are in Turkey, Syria's immediate neighbors. People who have had to flee from Burma, from Myanmar, are in Bangladesh, the next-door neighbor. The people who have had to flee from Venezuela are overwhelmingly in Colombia, for example. A few have gone a bit further afield.

That is neither fair nor sustainable. They cannot cover all of those costs and at the same time take care of their own people. These are developing countries, not the richer countries in the world. So we need a better way to share the global responsibility for people who have had to flee their own countries to save their lives. We need to figure out some way to do that.

One way would be to hold the countries, the governments, that have forced those people to flee to be culpable. Someone like Assad, the dictator of Syria, who is directly responsible in war crimes and crimes against humanity for driving out the millions-plus who have had to flee Syria, should be forced to pay. That is not easy. He is not going to volunteer to pay.

But, fortuitously, he and his family have assets in foreign banks that are probably, if you add them all up, over $2 billion. They are in banks in Germany, France, Canada, probably also in the United States, Switzerland, and elsewhere, and measures should be taken to seize those assets and use them to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan so that their financial costs could be borne with that money. That would go a considerable way to helping provide support for them, and that would be a completely just use of those monies from the Assad family. So one way is culpability, which would improve responsibility sharing.

The other is capability. That is, those countries of the world that are more capable of assisting should be upfront in doing so. Countries with big gross domestic products and large populations that make it easier to assimilate and integrate refugees should be upfront. Those for whom it is more difficult because they have high unemployment or they have already taken in a whole bunch of refugees should be asked for less.

We have developed a way to calculate those responsibility shares in a paper we have written, and I think we should urge that governments step up to the plate and meet some reasonable definition of what their responsibility shares should be.

The Europeans are trying to do this. They tried back in 2015 with a formula that did not quite work. They tried it top-down. They said: "Okay, Poland, you take this many, Czech Republic this many, Hungary this many," and those countries by and large said no. So the distribution of refugees did not work in that way. Only 15,000 totally out of the million that came to Europe in those years were settled.

They have now developed a better scheme, which is that they are going to attach a €10,000 voucher, about $13,000 or so, to every successful asylum seeker crossing the Mediterranean into Europe, and that voucher would be there to help integrate them into the economies that they are going into. That is a better design because that is all paid for collectively by the EU budget, but it will be spent by that asylum seeker, that refugee, in the countries in which they settle, so the financial cost is shared across the European Union, and the spending will take place in a single country and help ease the cost of integrating and assimilating that refugee, that asylum seeker, in the country in which they are seeking asylum.

That is a better scheme. I am not sure that it will work, but it has been introduced in the European Parliament, and it would be a good outcome in my opinion, a good way to handle integration.

We in the United States could certainly step up, as I mentioned, and go back to Obama-level resettlements, and we should pay more of our fair share at the global level. But not just us. So should China. So should India. So should Japan. So should Russia and many other countries step up and pay more of their fair share in supporting the world's refugees.

ALEX WOODSON: Definitely, and I know MIMC is working on this.

MICHAEL DOYLE: We are. In a little bit we could share with you some numbers that we have developed, but we have more work to do.

ALEX WOODSON: Definitely, yes. We will be following this.

Last question. We are talking about a lot of big issues and millions of people, very hard issues, very tough issues for a lot of people to think about, but if an individual person is listening to this podcast and they want to do something to help migrants, what would you suggest that they do? We have talked a lot about the governments and what they can do, but what can an individual person do right now in your mind?

MICHAEL DOYLE: They can do one thing which is very easy, which is go to the Carnegie website on the MIMC page and sign the Convention. It is open for signature for anybody and everybody who wants to support these kinds of initiatives. You will find a summary of the Convention there and a short version of it, and if this person finds this an attractive framework to think about for a better set of rules for moving people across borders, sign up, and you will be, whoever might choose to do so, in very good company. Everyone from the former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, a great global statesman, through a whole group of international experts in refugee law and the sociology of migration, to students from around the world have already signed. Please join them.

Beyond that, if that person is associated with a nongovernmental organization (NGO), they could encourage their NGO to join in with MIMC.

In a city, they could encourage the mayor's office to express support. Mayors are among the most progressive voices around the world when it comes to a better set of rules for migrants and refugees. Mayors have their feet firmly on the ground. What they care most about is that the citizens of their cities send their kids to school, get vaccinated, pay their taxes, and do all the things that good residents do. So mayors are often at the forefront. It is also the place where most migrants and refugees wind up.

If you are a member of a church, a temple, or synagogue, they have been at the forefront historically, especially in the United States, of providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees, and I hope that tradition continues.

And if you are in a private corporation, we will soon be reaching out to the private sector and asking the private sector to express support for these kinds of principles and rules, and urge your own company to join in as well.

All of these things would be valuable steps forward. Start out by signing it yourself, and go to our website.

ALEX WOODSON: Professor Michael Doyle, thank you very much. It is great to have MIMC as part of Carnegie Council, and I am sure we will be talking again in the future.

MICHAEL DOYLE: I look forward to it. We are delighted to be part of the Carnegie family. Thank you. Thanks, Alex.

ALEX WOODSON: That was Michael Doyle, university professor at Columbia University. For more on MIMIC, you can go to internationalmobilityconvention.org or carnegiecouncil.org

Thanks for listening and stay safe and healthy.

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