Digital nomads are good, asylum seekers bad

The same government that announced its intention to grant residence permits to “digital nomads” last week, is now denying work permits to asylum seekers from “safe countries of origin”. But what does this say about the Labor government’s commitment to equality?

Last week the government announced a new temporary residence program for people who wish to settle in Malta as a base for working remotely. The program offers a six-month visa and an option to obtain a one-year “nomadic residence permit” and costs € 300. To qualify, applicants must prove that they are engaged to work remotely by an overseas-based business, show that they run their own business, or provide independent service to overseas-based clients. Already some 1,000 so-called digital nomads have already lived and worked in Malta, with the government hoping to attract between 1,000 and 1,200 applicants per year.

There is certainly nothing wrong with incentives that tap into a niche that further expands Malta’s talent pool and diversity, attracting people who spend their income here and blend into an increasingly cosmopolitan landscape, well. that burdened by the infrastructural and environmental pressures of an influx of people invisible since time of the Knights of Saint John.

And unlike passport buyers, who don’t live in the property they rent or buy, digital nomads may actually want to live and enjoy life here, mingling with the Maltese melting pot. But so are thousands of foreign workers and asylum seekers, some of whom have been doing so for decades.

Yet the contrast between our ‘welcome’ of tech-savvy digital nomads associated with the wealthy part of the globe, and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by other categories of migrants from the Global South, runs counter to a government. who, on paper, is committed to “equality.”

A few days later, human rights NGOs denounced an Interior Ministry policy aimed at preventing asylum seekers deemed to come from “safe” countries from legal employment for 9 months.

A government source said the ministry complied with the legal requirements set out in the Minimum Asylum Standards, which enforce the employment ban specifically for so-called “Dublin” migrants, those asylum seekers who have applied for asylum. into the EU from another point of entry and then traveled – and other migrants with some form of protection or residence from another EU country. Many of these migrants tend to have traveled from Italy to Malta.

But the policy also makes life more difficult for migrants who cannot be returned immediately when they come from safe countries of origin and seek asylum in Malta. Without the immediate return of migrants from Dublin, deterrence could still risk spurring illegal employment and pushing hundreds more into destitution.

Even though their asylum claims are often rejected, some immigrants from safe countries may also benefit from protection, such as Kurdish refugees from Turkey, LGBTIQ people from a number of safe countries such as Tunisia … even if their claims are rejected, these asylum seekers often form meaningful emotional relationships in Malta, making their forced deprivation and deportation painful. Instead of considering an amnesty that normalizes the lives of people in a legal limbo and prevents them from sliding into a criminal world, such policies – even when mandated by European rules – see the intention to make life of these people a hell.

Welcome to Malta

Maria Pisani, human rights activist and director of the Integra Foundation, recalls that in all the years she has worked on asylum issues, she never remembers a government official saying that refugees and asylum seekers are welcome.

“Any reference to asylum seekers living in Malta is systematically accompanied by a condition: ‘you must integrate, you must change, you must respect …'”

In contrast, those who are offered a “nomadic residence permit” are “welcomed in Malta”, as Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship Alex Muscat said. Their Malta is cosmopolitan, embracing change and outward-looking as glorified in the imagination of Labor. Charles Mizzi, CEO of Residency Malta, even assures us that the “process is simple” and that digital nomads can live and work here while “enjoying all the advantages that Malta offers to foreigners”.

And all of this fits well with Labor’s adherence to a neoliberal world order where wealth creation is concerned, even if it retains the redistributive mechanisms that house indigenous labor – at least, in the tight timeframe for election cycles before the shit hits the range of hikes. real estate prices and precarious conditions.

But Pisani notes that in the popular imagination peddled by the government, “the digital nomad is an enigma, embodying the ultimate liberated figure, a consumer in the globalized neoliberal world.” They are celebrated for their “flair for traveling and discovering new countries and cultures”, as Alex Muscat himself acknowledged.

But their nomadic lives transcend the borders of any nation-state and the control of the state apparatus. Digital nomads are becoming “subversive, challenging fixed notions of belonging and identity” – asylum seekers though? No – their demands for security cannot escape their limits of poverty and persecution.

In short, there is something spicy and sexy about the term digital nomad, which itself does not even reflect the actual working conditions of work in the digital world, where the self-employed are deprived of basic rights such as vacation time. sickness and holidays. Some nomadic workers end up working long hours at different jobs just to pay rent and make ends meet.

Go back to your country

In contrast, the asylum seeker is immobilized by the State at the borders, in detention centers and in our prisons. The message sent to this category is to return to their country, even after offering cheap labor. The onus is always either to try to control asylum seekers or to deport them.

“Far from being freed, their life is marked by restrictions, and deprived of the right to work, they are forced to be outlaws. Paradoxically, asylum seekers serve as a marker of difference, demarcating ‘the other’ in an effort to maintain the premise (or illusion) of belonging and control, and the mythical notions of a fixed identity ”, Pisani said.

Perhaps the asylum seeker provides a counterweight to the digital nomad, an assurance that the government always excludes these “others” to protect the natives from a conjured invasion, when in reality it is the Maltese government that opens the floodgates – to the high-net – of worthy individuals, to nomadic digital gurus, to minimum wage workers from outside the EU to work on construction sites.

But Labor in government has chosen to play tyrant with the weak in an attempt to prevent a populist revolt against its own brand of cosmopolitanism.

How repressions complement cosmopolitanism

This unequal treatment of different categories of migrants has been a hallmark of the Labor government’s migration policy, since 2013 when just months after being prevented by courts from illegally pushing back migrants from Libya, the Muscat government took action. is launched into the citizenship by investment system which effectively sold citizenship to the rich of the world.

“Malta distinguishes between migrants on the basis of their perceived value to us. The treatment received by passport buyers, who in most cases have absolutely no real interest in the welfare of the country, is a different universe from the way Malta treats migrants who have devoted all of their time here to trying to make Malta their home, ”said Neil Falzon. , director of the Aditus Foundation.

A recent court ruling condemning the decision to keep six men locked up months after their detention was – on paper – lifted, “is another example of how the nation has stopped seeing some migrants as real human beings.” “.

Yet despite these differences, the categories remain elusive with a common theme running through all interactions with migrants; maybe not everyone is Maltese and including EU nationals.

“These are not people with lives, families, friends, dreams, disappointments, joys and sorrows. These are commodities made available to us to make and break, use and abuse at our whim, ”says Falzon,

“There is no gratitude, no respect, no dignity once we drain them of their energies and humanity. Our approach is distinctly selfish and egocentric, perhaps fueled by an inferiority complex that causes us to forge our own superiority and our own worth by removing the migrant.

About Andrew Miller

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