Could Smart Contracts Be the Answer to Effective Immigration?

| Publish date: 07/02/2018

Immigration is a topic that becomes more relevant with each passing year, given the increasing movement towards globalization and recent turbulence around the world in areas like the Middle East and Africa. It has become easier to pick up and move—and more necessary to do so—as shifting economic trends displace people everywhere. Advanced governments in the United States and Europe are dedicating more of their resources to border control, and must determine how to balance their stance on human rights with the needs of their own citizens. Relevant expenditures include the enforcement of laws and applying swift policy changes when necessary.

These issues are difficult simply by nature of their system they reside in, with “immigration” simply a moniker for an enormous bureaucratic entity that includes several branches of government. While immigration may always be a complicated subject, it doesn’t need to be as difficult to carry out, and blockchain is a potentially powerful remedy. With blockchain, authorities responsible for enacting efficient, humane immigration policy will find a tool that helps them accomplish their goals. This tool is the ‘smart contract’, and it has already made a significant impact in other areas of industry and government, with immigration next on the docket.

Self-Sovereign IDs and Emigration Eligibility

One of the most interesting ideas conjured up by blockchain innovators is self-sovereign identity, which is a unique identity that can be verified without one’s most vital information permanently in the hands of the authorities. A social security number is extremely valuable, for example, but if it exists in a third-party system (even one as trustworthy as the government’s), it’s never entirely safe. A blockchain ID combined with a smart contract system can do wonders for quickly checking eligibility for citizenship and other identity-dependent tasks.

When governments agree that a blockchain ID can be used to enter their borders, solutions like Civic and SelfKey will become more popular. A resident can join one of these “identity blockchains”, or a government’s own chain, and get a private and public key pair that allows them to sign the government’s blockchain ledger with their ID. This signature can hold hundreds of unique data points belonging to one person only and cannot be falsified or copied. It helps immigrants provide a full range of identity information more easily, which can head off issues encountered at the border before they happen.

Potential emigrants wanting to move to the US, for example, would be able to safely and quickly enter their public blockchain ID into the US system. Smart contracts can quickly compare the United States’ immigration template and its myriad criteria against the data attached to an individual’s ID and let them know what more they need to accomplish before gaining entry.

Faster Flexibility With Policy Changes

Immigration departments are complex, layered, and span the full range of government from those who vote on new laws to the officers enforcing them. When a new administration takes over and wants to change the laws, it can be difficult to turn on a dime, simply because it takes time for everyone to understand the new rules. Smart contracts can solve this problem easily.

A government that uses smart contracts to analyze immigrants’ ledger-based biometric information can quickly make granular changes to their system, and expect them to instantly take effect at the border, without extra input from the human capital stationed there. In certain situations of national security, it might be necessary to temporarily limit entrants from certain countries or flag others, and these changes can be applied immediately to the smart contract that entrants are checking themselves against.

Incoming immigrants will need a way to enter their public ID into a blockchain-enabled system, however, for a smart contract to gain access to the data behind it. In essence, the idea of smart-contract enabled border controls hinges upon the proliferation of technology that isn’t yet universal but might soon be.

Fast, Orderly, and Safe Border Control

Devices that can hold one’s public ID can be swiped and read by IoT-integrated kiosks, for example, to verify that one’s private ID (and the ledger details tied to it) passes muster at the border. This technology already exists in mobile applications like Apple Pay, but it will also work with the cheapest solutions, like a magnetic card, fingerprint or retina scan, or simple password terminal. One of the costliest parts of immigration is the human capital required to check one’s identity, and an integrated system like this can reduce this friction.

Instead of giving one’s passport or other documents to an immigration officer and having them scrutinize them intensely, it’s much easier to rely on the immutable ledger. Immigrations officers are checking to ensure that the ID is real, that the person entering the country is the same as the person on the ID, and that they aren’t a threat per preset (and ever-changing) guidelines and recent activity. Smart contracts are simply more thorough, and infinitely customizable, allowing border entries to reduce manpower while still filtering incoming people with impeccable accuracy.

It might be a condition of the United States smart contract that immigrants from Russia also supply a valid visa before entering. In this case, public IDs that ping the blockchain without a visa attached to their Russian private ID will trigger a denial of entrance. A secondary bonus is that instead of physical enforcement and human scrutiny at the border, immigrants can screen themselves in a more efficient and gentle way.

Much of the frustration at the border is a function of high-running emotions and hard-to-navigate bureaucratic systems, but blockchain and smart contracts streamline and temper this process somewhat. More efficient remote eligibility checks can even direct certain individuals to the relevant government office or person, which saves just as much stress alongside the would-be salaries for the thousands employed to stand guard at a country’s gates.

Compassionate Smart Contracts and Preserving Safety

Smart contracts aren’t an end all, be all solution. They can’t make the world a more tolerant place, nor help secure entry for a person who simply isn’t eligible for immigration, no matter their intentions. What it can do is grease the wheels and restructure the biggest choke points in the process, with authorities able to lean on the ledger’s impeccable inspection utility and invest more time in cases that require special judgement. Without compromising on safety, a more humane and efficient model will result, which is sweet-sounding proposition to every government the world over.


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