Restrictions on Labor Movement

Perhaps a more revealing indicator of protectionist sentiment than actual trade barriers are the barriers to labor that are springing up in Asia, as reported by 2point6billion. Trade restrictions are still stigmatized, due to the reflexive habits of the past ten years of globalization, and so we can expect them to lag behind popular and political sentiment that might support them.

Restrictions on labor’s freedom of movement, on the other hand, are pretty widely accepted as being up to each individual state to decide for themselves. And they seem to be spreading pretty quickly, both as state policy (cancelled work visas and beefed up enforcement of illegal immigration) and employment trend (migrants as the first fired). The impact on countries of origin is significant, both in lost remittances, and the return of unemployed workers to economies that they’d already seen fit to leave in boom times.

This mirrors a chilling effect on the EU, where eleven member states extended labor market restrictions on the most recent members, Bulgaria and Romania, in January (although four lifted them). This slightly out of date BBC map gives an idea of the complicated EU labor market picture.

But despite the bureaucratic restrictions, the EU’s open borders will most likely encourage illegal immigration within Europe should the downturn take on the proportions that some are predicting. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine illegal European labor migration overtaking African illegal immigration as the focus of popular resentment on the continent. It’s harder to take a sanguine view of open borders when the only thing that’s crossing them is competition for scarce jobs. That more than the bailout dilemma probably has the potential to drive the East-West split within the Union even deeper.

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