Immigrants Hurt?

Consider this cost: After years of mule-headed congressional refusals to increase the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, Microsoft recently opened a research facility in Vancouver for such workers. We immediately lost significant tax revenues, as well as ready markets for housing and other U.S. goods and services.Translation: a loss of U.S. jobs because of restrictive immigration policies. It is misleading to suggest (as columnist Charles Davenport Jr. recently did) that passing recent reform legislation would have brought in 10 million additional workers. The 2007 bill addressed the status of the undocumented workers already in the U.S. It was just as misleading to cite 1996 figures for public assistance; since 1996, use of those benefits by immigrants has plunged dramatically because of restrictive federal laws.

Though its still endlessly debatable the United Nations’s latest Human Development Report of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) says that the perceived negative burden of migrants on host societies does not correspond to reality. The 217-page report clearly spells out that sizeable gains to human development can be achieved by lowering the barriers to movement and improving the treatment of migrant workers.

Jean-Paul Chauzy, head of media at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) – one of the contributors to the report – welcomed the “essential and extremely timely message in light of the current recession that has led many countries to raise rather than lower barriers to mobility”.


The UNDP while advocating liberalization in immigration laws and better working conditions for such workers also acknowledges the controversy posed by the burden that migrants can impose on local workers by filling vacant jobs, and other concerns like the heightened risk of crime and the fear of losing and cultural cohesion. It also raises concerns around issues like “brain drain” in home countries and a lack of determination to solve domestic problems first. However, Jeni Klugman, Director of the HDR division of UNDP,  in a briefing to reporters last week, said that research has found that “these concerns are often exaggerated by politicians”. The large body of evidence suggests that “negative effects are generally small and may, in some contexts, be entirely absent”.

Overcoming barriers lays out a core package of reforms, six ‘pillars’ that call for:

  • Opening existing entry channels for more workers, especially those with low skills;
  • Ensuring basic human rights for migrants, from basic services, like education and health care, to the right to vote;
  • Lowering the transaction costs of migration;
  • Finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants;
  • Easing internal migration; and
  • Adding migration as a component for origin countries’ development strategies.

Earnings by economic migrants from poorer countries were 15 times higher than at home, which meant those employed in developed states were helping to double school enrolment rates and significantly reduce instances of child mortality at home.The UNDP said demand for migrant workers in developed countries would be higher in the next four decades when domestic workforces shrink. Populations are expected to grow by more than a third in poorer nations.

The report also highlights the issue of some governments placing undue restrictions on women migrants. While citing the example of nations like Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland placing restrictions on women leaving the country, points towards the fact that more than 20 nations do not allow women to apply for passports on their own.

The 2007 report of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers found:
  • The long-run fiscal impact of immigrants is likely to be positive.
  • Entrepreneurial activity is nearly 40 percent higher for immigrants than the native-born.
  • For men between 18 and 40, immigrants are much less likely to be incarcerated than natives.
  • Per capita, immigrants and their descendants over their lifetimes contribute $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in public services.
  • Some 70 percent of first-generation Latinos use Spanish as their predominant language; only in 7 percent of the second generation is Spanish predominant.
  • Immigration results in annual wage gains for native-born U.S. workers of $30 billion to $80 billion.

A major concern of a number of developing countries regarding losing skilled professionals to exodus the report argues is more of a symptom of failing public systems rather than a cause of the same. The report also cautions that migtration is not a long term development policy for developing nation but surely helps in bring ideas and resources which can aid development. It can be coupled with more holistic development strategies, to compliment broader local and national efforts to reduce poverty and enhance social and economic development.


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