A couple of days ago I proposed outsourcing the task of screening asylum seekers for legitimacy by (i) accrediting aid or other non-profit agencies with screening functions; (ii) requiring asylum seekers taking that route to be accompanied by a sizable fee (likely to be paid by the accrediting agency and their contributors); and (iii) still preserving whatever current arrangements the Government has for humanitarian entry on a fee-free basis. The idea here is the channel a new engine of social entrepreneurship to solve, what is on the stats as, a manageable issue. As often is the case with a relatively half-baked idea, there were a few questions raised about how this would work. I’m going to try and answer some of them here.
Question 1: Don’t the asylum seekers already pay a ‘fee’ to people smugglers? Yes, they do but it is hardly an above-board contract. We would never let Australian consumers pay those amounts for such shonky arrangements. The idea here is the provide a legitimate and, therefore, safer route to advance in the queue based on legitimate criteria.
Question 2: We already have a business migration program with a large fee to jump queues. Why not just extend that and lower the fee? That perhaps is a good idea. What I was trying to do was to focus on the political refugees rather than the wealth of other reasons people would like to migrate to Australia. So I kept the proposal to that but this is not a critical part.
Question 3: Surely, the asylum seekers can’t afford the fee? I agree, that is why the idea here is to get others to pay the fee for them. The idea is to give someone an incentive to screen for appropriate reasons to allow someone to jump the queue. If you have to pony up cash and account to your contributors, my guess is that you will want to pay for migrants with the right profile.
Question 4: Why have the fee at all? We already have a fee-free process and that isn’t doing the job — not enough to stop people risking their lives and fueling crime. The economist in me likes to tie scarce rights (in this case, queue jumping) to a real cost to make sure the screening function is performed. Personally, I’d favour a free process altogether but recognise that the politics are far from supporting it.
Question 5: Isn’t this already occurring? Actually, it may well be and I confess, my assumption was that it wasn’t because of the fact that the Government doesn’t talk about or promote it. One accrediting agency already in existence is UNHCR but I don’t know too much about it.
Question 6: Who cares about people smuggling? Did anyone put a gun to the passengers’ heads and force them onto the boat? I think that is precisely the point. They did put a gun to their head. It is precisely because we love political freedom that we support people in trying to exercise it and flee oppression. (And, yes that was a question, see the comments here).