Some Americans want to build a wall. On Wednesday the United Kingdom decides whether it should stay part of the European Union. Refugees are resorting to desperate measures to cross borders. I am waiting for my wife. Borders unnecessarily halt our world’s progress and we must break them down.
In 2012, I moved from London to San Francisco. My visa process took four months of uncertainty and once I had arrived my visa status was tied to my job. To get more freedom, I entered the lengthy green card process. During this time, I entered a long distance relationship with a Singaporean. Despite speaking to each other every day, our time together has been restricted by the length of tourist visas, work commitments, and our finances.
As we became more serious, my partner explored working in the States.
An international company wanted to hire her, but eventually they backtracked confiding that obtaining a visa was expensive and time-consuming.
After marrying, we thought it would be a simple formality to find ourselves united. Yet, to be together, upon the approval of my green card, everywhere we looked we found paperwork, money and bureaucracy.
Our unions are becoming more complex and the physical world is not compatible.
Affordable travel and the Internet have made the world smaller and people like ourselves are finding soulmates elsewhere. Our story is not unique. I have a friend who saw his relationship plunged into a year of uncertainty when he lost the job that he needed to keep his work visa. My sister was separated from her partner for a year due to a work placement. Countless friends are in relationships with partners of other nationalities. I know a Malaysian who married an American after meeting on MySpace.com.
Borders have long been part of our history, but the world has changed.
In London, many of my friends are expats, a mixture of people who came for studies, work, or on a whim. The European Union, with its freedom of movement laws, made their transitions straightforward. Just as friends have come to London, friends have left to work in cities such as Dublin, Barcelona, and Paris. Many of them found love and are oblivious to how the European Union has made their relationships as effortless as they should be.
Luckily my wife and I are used to having constraints. A positive end for us is in sight, but for now, we are being denied a basic human right, to be together, because of borders.
It would have been easier had I taken employment within Europe. I was hired because I had a skill that the United States desired. I have many friends in the United Kingdom with less desirable skill-sets for immigration, that I feel would thrive in a city like San Francisco.
The targeting of certain skills has negative consequences. In San Francisco, I see large scale cultural upheaval and extreme gentrification. I’ve watched many of its most interesting people move effortlessly north to Portland where the cost of living is cheaper. In this digital age, there is never going to be a new art movement in a place where the talent pool is restricted to a small handful of people in a certain field.
In 1921, Ernest Hemingway, a young unknown American journalist arrived in Paris. Paris at the time was a hotpot of artistic talent — Picasso from Spain, James Joyce from Ireland. His career blossomed through the influence of many of these talented creators. Just as certain chemical reactions only happen under the right conditions, if the right minds come together, iconic movies are formed, scientific discoveries and breakthrough inventions are made. What role will freedom of movement have in finding a cure for cancer?
Theoretically, the removal of global borders could end poverty, double the world’s GDP and reduce wars. We would enter a golden age if we broke down these barriers in our physical world rather than built them up. Being united leads us to greater tolerance. London’s election of the first Muslim mayor is a testament to this. We would innovate faster due to a much wider talent pool and unemployment would disappear due to the unhindered ability for supply to follow demand.
I’m proud of Europe and I’m proud of what the United Kingdom has become through immigration. Its capital, London, has international cuisine, its British West Indian community throws a carnival every August and according to the BBC, more than three hundred languages are spoken in its schools. My friends in the United States are envious of Europe. The culture, the possibilities, the history and the forward thinking politics inspire them. They would move to Europe in a heartbeat if they could.
Wednesday, the United Kingdom makes a decision. Leaving wouldn’t make migration impossible. Certain people with the right combination of desire, finances, contacts and qualifications would still be able to get into and out of the United Kingdom, but for those who don’t there will be huge hurdles to overcome. It is my belief that we’ll see the next big music, social, literary and art movements happen elsewhere.
One day I wish to return to Europe. The prospect of a Europe without Britain saddens me. It is a truly wonderful union and something that might inspire the rest of the world to change in ways we cannot fathom. If the United Kingdom leaves, I will lament the lost opportunity that cross-pollination of cultures brings, the regression in humanity and my heart will go out to all the Britons who dare fall in love with someone other than their own.