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Don’t Lock Out China’s Victims

America should make a greater effort to bring Hong Kong’s victims of communism to American shores.
June 3, 2021
Don’t Lock Out China’s Victims
A man displays a US flag outside the US Consulate General on July 4, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Less than one year ago, amid the Chinese Communist Party crackdown on Hong Kong freedom activists, former President Trump rightfully moved to impose sanctions on the CCP and ended preferential trade relations that benefitted the Chinese regime. But in the process, we stopped treating Hong Kong as a separate country for immigration purposes. The unintended consequence was that there are fewer visas and green cards available for the same activists that waved the American flag and sang the U.S. national anthem as they defended their city from the Chinese Communist Party.

It is in U.S. national interests to remind young Americans of the terrible consequences of socialism, and the best way to achieve that is to admit immigrants who lived under socialism and can tell Americans what it’s really like.

By treating Hong Kong and China as the same country, the U.S. government is subjecting freedom-seeking Hong Kongers—who are family members of U.S. citizens, high-skilled immigrants, or investors from Hong Kong—to many years of additional wait time before obtaining a green card. We should be able to oppose and counter the Chinese Communist Party without hurting the same people we intend to help.

America should reverse this unfair treatment of Hong Kongers by returning the city to its previous immigration status as a separate country. But we should not stop there: immigration law should put American values in the forefront.

One way to do that would be to set up a Victims of Communism Visa (VCV) that would allocate an annual fixed number of visas to nationals of communist-ruled nations. To qualify, applicants would have to be citizens of countries that the State department designates as communist-ruled. Beyond that qualification, the visas could be assigned randomly. This would be different from asylum since asylees are required to show they were personally persecuted, and unfortunately, merely living in a country without freedom isn’t enough to meet that standard.

The VCV is not unprecedented. The Diversity Visa lottery gives away 50,000 green cards randomly to applicants from “under-represented” countries every year. The applicants must have at least a high school degree or equivalent work experience, and if they’re selected, they must go through a vetting process. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government also ran a green card lottery specifically for Cuban citizens living on the island since Cubans in the United States already qualified automatically for legal status. We can and should extend the same welcome to the victims of communism.

To make this easier, and to ensure that visas are reserved for individuals who experience socialism firsthand, Congress should establish the criteria necessary for a country to be considered “communist-ruled.” It wouldn’t make sense, for example, to give these visas to citizens of the United Arab Emirates because, while it’s true they lack political freedom, their nation is prosperous. To be included as a communist-ruled state, a country would have to lack both political and economic freedom. Using the two most popular indices of these freedoms, Freedom House’s political rights index and the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, we could make a rough list of countries that would be eligible for the VCV. If we take the countries that belong in the bottom 20 of both indices of political and economic freedom, only seven countries would qualify for the designation: North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan. Congress should also allow the State Department to include other regions that it considers to be on the path to oppression such as Hong Kong.

But what about the economic and cultural consequences of this migration? Even Dr. George Borjas, a leading economist who’s relatively skeptical of immigration, showed that immigrants from more repressive countries tend to assimilate faster in the United States than others. In economic terms, this means that their earnings grow faster than those of other immigrants. This is driven in part because returning home isn’t an option, so they do everything to fit in and succeed in America.

On the cultural front, immigrants from repressive countries are all but socialist or communist. Global surveys show that people support capitalism and freedom in un-free nations more than in developed nations. And a peer-reviewed study by European economists showed that immigrants change the nature of their home countries by transmitting what they learned where they arrive to their families and friends. In other words, increasing the number of immigrants from these countries in America would contribute to exporting a culture of freedom, which may eventually help the people there regain their freedom.

It’s time for U.S. immigration policy to advance American national interests both in America and abroad. The Victims of Communism Visa is a step that Congress can take to move us in that direction.

Daniel Di Martino

Daniel Di Martino is a PhD in economics student at Columbia University, a Young Voices senior contributor, and a Venezuelan citizen. You can follow him on Twitter here.