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  • Maria Matskevich

Why was The Freedom of Movement Project created?



I’ve been trying to write this post for about a year, and yet I still struggle with making it as concise as possible. Because ultimately, it’s just an answer to a simple question - why am I starting this project? The answer, I’m afraid, isn’t as simple, but I’ll attempt it nonetheless. So, let me ask you this question - have you ever been kicked out of a party? Or maybe just not invited to one? Ever felt like you wanted to be somewhere but couldn’t get there? The responders usually fall into one of two categories - those who have felt that way, and those who haven’t. The latter often don’t have a clue of what I’m talking about. Perhaps because their freedom of movement was rarely restricted, or they were the most popular kid in school or both. As for myself, I fall into the “Yes, I get it” category. However, I was just as oblivious about it as anyone else until 2018. This is where I need to give you some background. I was born in Moscow, Russia, to Russian parents, thus eliminating any hope of another nationality by birthright. But, unlike most, I didn’t end up growing up in my home country. Instead, at 9 years old - I moved to London and went to Godstowe boarding school there for a year. Then, after a short year back in Moscow - I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and spent 6 years at the Sanchez-Casal tennis academy, where I ended up finishing my high school studies. Following this, I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, to get my bachelor’s degree from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. This brings us to July 2018, graduation, end of Bachelor studies, a grand celebration. The whole story sounds like an international, multicultural dream. Yes, it was a dream, facilitated by (amongst other things) a convenient document - the student visa. Unbeknown to me, or at least, rarely thought of, this little document has allowed me to live, study, and travel across Europe for the majority of my life. It even allowed for part-time employment during university studies. And while that student visa is pretty easy to obtain (provided you’re indeed studying in the country in question), what comes after is not. Those with unfavorable passports will understand what I am talking about immediately. My friends from China, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia know this same struggle all too well. But, for my European friends - I am pretty sure the topic of immigration and passport value first really registered with them when I’d bring it up in exasperation. Since moving back to Moscow and no longer having my convenient student visa, I’ve had friends invite me over for spontaneous weekends in European cities - not even remembering that people like me - we need a visa first. Due to the well-functioning Schengen system and well-established diplomatic relations with other countries, Europeans have had access to relatively open borders for years. To some, it never even occurred what it’s like to now have that freedom. I’ve actually had a friend be surprised when I told her that she’d need a visa for Russia. She asked me dead serious “Why”?


And you know, I’ve been part of that “European” bubble. Oh, the student visa is so convenient. Especially when you study at a European school because that student visa gives you access to all of Schengen, and I’ve always had the opportunity to go for that spontaneous weekend. It didn’t occur to me how different things would be once I wasn’t a student anymore. Well, I am no longer a student. For almost 2 years, to be exact. And I am more aware of this discrimination based on where you were born than ever. It started when I was applying for jobs, and it’s continued ever since. Twice I’ve had employers deny me a position due to my passport, saying that unfortunately, they couldn’t sponsor a work visa. Countless times, I got rejected by default, before even applying as I left the checkbox of “I have permission to work in the country where this position is based” unmarked. The more I applied, the more I searched, the more hopeless it became and eventually led to me returning to Moscow and seeking employment there. All these immigration laws, visas, and borders - they infuriate me. I am not a politician. I didn’t study political science or law or anything like that, but I’ve been affected by them directly, and I couldn’t let go of the idea to do something about it for over a year now. The truth is - I don’t know a lot about the technicalities, but what I do know is - visas, and closed borders are discriminatory on the grounds of where a person was born. Something he or she had no control over. Much like discrimination on the grounds of race or gender. You don’t choose what color or gender you are born, and you do not decide where you are born and what passport you hold. You get lucky, or you don’t, and then you “deal with it.” After seeing the lack of awareness of this subject, I figured - if I can’t change the system (at least not by myself, at least not right now), I can at least spread awareness and start a conversation. So, that’s my reason for starting The Freedom of Movement project - which will come forth as a series of blog posts, and, in particular, interviews with experts on the subject, and people who have been affected by immigration laws (employers, employees, students, friends of those with “unfavorable” passports). I don’t want anyone to take my word for it - I want to show what profound effect these laws have all across our society, and I’d like to dispel some misconceptions about what open borders would mean. I hope that eventually, raising awareness of this subject will prove valuable to someone else, wherever and from whichever country they may be. This is why, as my first interviewee, I spoke with Professor Bryan Caplan. A renowned economist who has spent years diving into the subject of the open borders and has recently released a book - Open Borders - which addresses the concerns and misconceptions of those opposing open borders and also providing explicit evidence of the benefits they would provide. I couldn’t think of anyone better to start this series as Professor Caplan has legitimate research to back up his claims and our point of view. You can read his interview here.


So, this is for everyone who’s been affected by closed borders and immigration control, to everyone remotely interested in where the world is heading. We welcome your feedback, comments, and encourage discussion as this is the ultimate goal of this project - to raise awareness and start a conversation. So let’s do this! Let me know below who will be tuning in and if you have anyone who you think I should interview!