I am an immigrant. I’ve been an immigrant to several countries and for the last 30 years (as of today, actually) I’ve been an immigrant to Norway. I came to Norway to work for a few months because I was broke after having lived in California for some time, and my own country–Denmark–could offer me nothing. Most of my friends were unemployed and I did not want to go down that road.
So I came to Norway with two empty hands and a desire to work. I did what immigrants often do, I took the jobs the locals didn’t want. I worked in housekeeping and as a dishwasher at a hotel, I worked as a waiter and I had a job making open-faced sandwiches in a cafeteria. Later on I grabbed the offer of free education from the Norwegian state and the rest is history. I’ve been working and paying taxes for 25 years now. I’m fairly sure I’ve been a good investment for the state of Norway, even if she did pay for six years of university education. Less so for my birth country, Denmark, who paid for 12 years of school and only received pennies (well, øre) back in taxes from me.
Me – a parasite
Before I came to Norway, I lived in California. I was probably not a good investment for California. Yes, I did spend money there but I also had a job without paying any taxes. Yes, I was a selfish kid who applied for, and got a job at a cafe, without having a work permit. I would have gladly paid my taxes if it had been possible, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t an illegal immigrant as such–I had a visa to live there–but I definitely worked there illegally. Sorry, California.
The same goes for Greece and Italy, because I’ve lived and worked in both countries for short periods of time. It was perfectly legal for me to live there, but I did not have permission to work (I have to remind you that this was before Schengen and you had to have a work permit even inside the EU). Sorry, Greece and Italy.
Traveled to many countries
I’ve always loved traveling. My parents were fairly poor and every cent (well, øre) they had went into the piggy bank that said “vacation”. When I was 12 I started traveling alone. When I was 14 I took the train alone all across Europe and when I was 16 I started hitchhiking.
I just counted the number of countries I’ve visited and I’m close to 50. Some of the countries don’t exist anymore, like the Soviet Union, DDR and Yugoslavia. Some countries I’ve visited many times, some only once.
Why am I telling this story?
Why am I telling the story of me as an immigrant and me as a tourist? Because those of us who have been born in the right country–like a Scandinavian country–tend to forget the gigantic privilege our passport gives us. We can travel almost everywhere and we can even decide to move to a different country and be met with open arms.
A Danish passport gives you access to 172 different countries in the world, only beaten by Finland and Sweden (arrgh) who can travel to 173 different countries with their passports, according to this article. If you’re from Afghanistan you’re only welcome in 28 countries.
Why is my passport better?
I did not do anything special to receive a Danish passport. My Danish passport was not a prize for being an extraordinary person who deserved to be able to travel the world. I was born to Danish parents and that was it. Why do I qualify to travel to 173 different countries just because the right set of parents had me?
These days there is a harsh tone towards immigrants and refugees. I hear people talking about closing borders and building high walls and all I can think of the lack of walls I’ve always met. Why have I been accepted to country after country, no questions asked? After all I’ve “stolen” jobs from the locals, not paid my taxes, stayed way longer than planned–I’ve even taken a man (or is it only “our women” that can be taken?).
Why am I welcome?
In a perfect world all borders would be open to anyone. We do, unfortunately, not live in a perfect world.
But as a person who–in spite of the huge privileges my passport gave me–has cheated and worked without a work permit, I can’t fault people for trying to cheat their way into a country they want to live in. It’s a part of human nature to try and improve your living conditions and if that’s impossible where you live, people will move. People have done so for thousands of years and I’m not sure why it’s a surprise that people still move to have a better life.
And those of us born in my part of the world tend to forget the enormous privilege we have when we carry a passport that gives us access to most of the world. We tend to forget what a privilege it is to be able to move to a different country if you think you’ll be able to live a better life there. We tend to forget how wrong it is when we can go to countries and visit people–and they can never come to our country and visit us.
The worst part? Some people seem to think they are better people just because they have a passport that allows them to visit 172 countries.