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A global mobility divide between ‘North’ and ‘South’?

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

Migration and citizenship studies are often said to suffer from what some have called an ‘Atlantic’ or ‘Global North’ bias, meaning that Western industrialized countries are often overrepresented in comparative academic analyses. The obvious reason may be the frequent lack of available or reliable data from other regions, but the editors of the recent Oxford Handbook on Citizenship rightly wonder in their introduction ‘what insights and observations open up when citizenship is studied beyond the traditional Euro-centric focus?’.

Something similar may be said of the global visa regime, the commonly accepted idea being in the words of the International Migration Institute (IMI) that ‘while people holding passports of the wealthy or “befriended” countries can often breeze through custom checks, often using fully automated systems such “e-gates”, citizens of poor and politically fragile countries, particularly from South and South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have to queue up in long rows, and generally require a visa to enter’.

Based on an analysis of global bilateral travel restrictions from 1973 to 2013, however, the IMI argues that the ‘perception of a North–South mobility divide may reflect a Western or Eurocentric perspective’ and that ‘realities seem to be more complex than this dichotomous representation’. Their analysis also highlights the growing importance of regional blocs and organizations, proving once again the enormous added value of a second passport in terms of increasing one’s global mobility:

While citizens of regional blocs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), [MERCOSUR] and the South African Development Community (SADC) enjoy free internal travel, travellers and migrants from Europe and other ‘third countries’ may well need a visa. This exemplifies that real-world visa regimes may not fit within simplistic ‘North–South’ schemes, and that visa regimes may partly reflect more complex geopolitical relations and multi-layered hierarchies at the regional level.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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