Regulation of Migration: an Armenian Opening Gambit


Achilles' hell of politics

2009 is a turning point for Armenia in terms of its conceptual approaches to the development of the country. Historically this is the first time that the development of the country is being soundly based on the realities of national security, European integration and challenges of modernity. In certain sectors development, implementation, coordination and monitoring of state policies are undoubtedly being improved with time. However, these policies are still being vulnerable exactly at the spots where addressing relevant challenges requires cooperation of a range of state agencies.

The oil of "strategic policy-making" on the canvas of migration

One such example is the regulation of migration. Obviously, the solution of a number of salient issues significant for the sustainable development of the country is interwoven with the regulation of migration. For instance, Armenia has adopted an immigration policy of "open doors", directed towards development of tourism, promotion of foreign investments in the Armenian economy and turning Armenia into a center that will be providing quality services in educational, health and finances. The spectrum of current emigration priorities has become more expansive as well, and it seems to take into account the global mobility of Armenians and the existence of Armenian diasporas worldwide. The Armenian government tries to facilitate the free movement of their citizens, for instance through negotiations with EU authorities regarding simpler EU entry procedures. The pertinent feature of Armenian reality labor migration and remittances to Armenia requires an immediate attention to the regulation of "regular migration".

Too many cooks spoil the broth

The country faces a number of challenges while it makes serious attempts to implement an effective policy of immigration and emigration. We lack a balanced policy that reflects the realities of internal and external migration, draws on national interests and is in accordance with the external commitments of the country. Moreover, state policies in certain sectors and national and branch strategy programmes do not always reflect migration issues and priorities of this sector. There is no agency that is responsible for the development of the migration policy, its implementation and coordination of inter-agency cooperation and monitoring. The Migration Agency does not have a holistic mandate to deal with the whole spectrum on migration issues. The same is true of the other state agencies with responsibilities in the framework of migration policies, such as ministries and structures adjacent to the government. Actually, the issues of migration regulation do not stem from the absence of a comprehensive agency responsible for the development and implementation of a holistic migration policy, but rather they result in the necessity of having one. Issues in this sector are rather discrete and various. For instance, it is high time to revise the standards of granting visas and residence permits. There is a lack of common systems of collecting and analyzing accurate and comprehensive data. Current e-governance systems are isolated, rather than interconnected. There are no clear procedures for granting a visa to those interested in finding a job or starting a private enterprise in the country. Entry requirements are quite vague, and the same is true about the grounds for refusal. We do not yet have a system of providing a work permit together with a residence permit. The length of the detention of foreign citizens having illegally crossed the country borders or having violated the immigration rules and regulations is not defined; there are no special detention centers for these citizens and the procedures of extradition are very unclear. The issue of protecting labor migrants abroad is very crucial. Activities of the employment agencies offering jobs abroad to Armenian citizens are not being regulated as due. Issues of accepting and reintegrating returning migrants, whether voluntarily or mandatory, as well as prevention of emigration are very urgent. There is a lot to do, as well as a large number of doers, so what is really the problem?

The milk, breeding nurse and infant mortality

The problem is perhaps in the fact that migration is not adequately recognized as a security and strategic issue. The circle is closed. Numerous and varying issues of migration regulation result in the necessity of defining a common and holistic policy, as well as of creating sound institutional pre-conditions for its implementation. For instance, it is necessary to define the principles, goals and expected outcomes of the state policy on migration, as well as programme activities and respective monitoring systems. This is the imperative of the time and there does not seem to be any other viable alternative. Of course, the academic content of migration regulation usually covers immigration issues. However, for Armenia, which has migration flows in both directions, it is important to balance the two components of migration within a common policy framework. Obviously, it is easier to talk, than to balance. However, one thing is certain: immigration regulation cannot contradict emigration regulation. Moreover, these policies should be in accordance with the state policy on cooperation with Diaspora and what is more important, they should reflect state priorities in development and security strategies, which should actually serve as milestones for these policies. Legislative regulations in this sector should also be harmonized with the EU legislation and commitments to the European Neighborhood Policy. Still, the migration policy models of the European Union do not seem to be quite applicable to the Armenian context: there are a significant number of reservations to be considered. In contrast, the experience of countries with more balanced policies of migration can be quite useful. Policy alternatives and issues are numerous, but it is indisputable that in the migration sector one needs to regulate what is necessary, not what is possible

Another urgent issue is addressing institutional issues. It is necessary to distinguish between functions in the sector, define the roles and responsibilities of each agency and introduce inter-agency coordination, collaboration and common procedures for regulation of information flows. The time is just ripe for creating a civil unit with adequate professional responsibilities and rights within the sector, which should include responsibilities, such as extension of residency permit periods and handling a number of other related issues, among which review of applications for shelter. The range of responsibilities should include also prevention of illegal residency of foreign citizens and it prevention, granting work permits, registering work contracts signed by foreign citizens, etc.

The start of the process is already belated.

This paper has been developed based on the opinions passed by the participants of a round table organized within the framework of the project "Support to Migration Policy Development and Relevant Capacity Building in Armenia". The event took place on October 14, 2008. The roundtable was attended by independent analysts, government officials, and representatives of the international organizations. The project is financed by the European Union.



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