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 on movement, that is to say lacking substantive border control. A border may be an open border due to a lack of legal controls or intentional legislation allowing free movement of people across the border (de jure), or a border may be an open border due to 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 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 effect 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]

Different 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 through airports in Ireland, those same citizens are required to provide evidence that they are UK or Irish nationals.

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.[4] 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.

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,[5] 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.[6]
  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.[7]
  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.[8]
  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.[9]
  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.[10]

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,[11] some estimate that open borders where people are free to move and find work could result in 78 trillion dollars in economic gains.[12]

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.[13][14][15]
  2. That open borders can be a threat to security and public safety. The threats to security and public safety can sometimes manifest themselves many decades after the initial immigration.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Examples of open borders[edit]

Nordic Passport Union[edit]

One of the earliest open border agreements was the Nordic Passport Union of 1952,[16] the entire Nordic region, apart from Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland (see below), have subsequently become part of the Schengen Area.


Uniquely, the Norwegian special territory of Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone. No person is required visa or residence permit, and anyone may live and work in Svalbard indefinitely, regardless of citizenship. Svalbard Treaty grants treaty nationals equal right of abode as Norwegian nationals. So far, non-treaty nationals were admitted visa-free as well. "Regulations concerning rejection and expulsion from Svalbard" in force.[17][18]

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

Agreement Since States Notes
Schengen Agreement and
microstates with open borders
1995 Most European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Area (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. However, some political scientists regard the EU as a de facto federation[19] and the "open borders" between EU states may thus be more analogous to the borders between states of the USA or Länder of Germany. As of 2016, 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).

Common Travel Area 1923 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 Russia and Belarus share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950
India and Nepal share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1949 India and Bhutan share open borders, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in both countries.
CA4 Border Control Agreement 2006 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 traveling by air must obtain the necessary permits or to undergo checks at border checkpoints.
Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement 1973 New Zealand and Australia share open borders, allowing their citizens freedom of movement in both countries.The arrangement allows citizens of each country to live and work in the other country, with some restrictions.
Nordic Passport Union 1954 Sweden and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway share open borders under the Nordic Passport Union 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 Nordic Passport Union are carried out at the first country of entry
Andean Community 2007 Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador 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 carried out at the first country of entry
Gulf Cooperation Council 1981 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
East African Community 2000 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.

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,[20][21][22] with approximately 350 million legal crossings being made annually.[21][23][24]
  • India and Bangladesh share a border—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.[25]
  • Entry into any of the U.S. minor outlying Islands requires permission from the U.S. Military, and entry to the territory of American Samoa for US citizens requires a return ticket.[26]

Examples of closed borders[edit]

See also[edit]


* Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have temporarily imposed controls on some or all of their borders due to the ongoing European migrant crisis.[30]


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  4. ^ "Orbis | Foreign Policy Research Institute" (PDF). 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  5. ^ "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the U.S. Border - Working Paper 148 | Center For Global Development". Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
  6. ^ "Event". Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
  7. ^ "Economics and Emigration : Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 25: 83–106. 2011. doi:10.1257/jep.25.3.83. Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
  8. ^ "Migration Without Borders : BERGHAHN BOOKS : Oxford, New York : Independent Publishing Since 1994". Berghahn Books. Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
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  10. ^ Caplan, Bryan (2012-01-01). "Why Should We Restrict Immigration?". Cato Journal. 32 (1): 5–24. 
  11. ^ Tim Cavanaugh (2006-04-16). "Open the Borders". Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
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  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ 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. 
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  24. ^ "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. 
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  29. ^ DEPARTURES CASABLANCA AIRPORT (CMN) retrieved 1 September 2017
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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. doi:10.1111/j.1351-0487.2005.00420.x. 
  • 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. 2017. Migration Borders Freedom. London: Routledge.
  • 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. doi:10.1017/s0034670500033817. 
  • 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. doi:10.2307/3312665. 
  • 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" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. 10 (2): 343–61. doi:10.1017/s0841820900001569. 
  • Huemer, Michael (2010). "Is There a Right to Immigrate?". Social Theory and Practice. 36 (3): 429–61. doi:10.5840/soctheorpract201036323. 
  • 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. doi:10.1086/592311.