Why immigration is a solution, not a problem
“Above all, it is the right thing to do, period” — Pres. Obama announcing new immigration measures on June 15th.
President Obama’s announcement last week that he would use executive authority to halt deportations and grant work permits for certain younger undocumented immigrants provoked both celebration and outrage.
The current immigration debate, in the U.S. and around the globe, centers mainly on the negative — illegality, crime, racism, scarcity (mainly of jobs and services) — but it is time we considered the positives. Immigrants provide skills, start businesses, consume goods, pay taxes and create valuable cultural and economic links between countries. When viewed as a solution, rather than a problem, the answer is clear: we need more immigrants.
The real problem currently is the weak economy. The traditional view is that immigrants have a negative impact on the economy, taking the jobs of native citizens, lowering wages and raising unemployment rates. However, you will have difficulty finding reliable data to confirm this. The fact is that immigration has always been a powerful force for economic growth.
The U.S. is probably the greatest immigration success story in history. The country benefited hugely from the waves of immigration from Europe between 1850 and 1930 and the latest (and largest) immigration wave from Mexico, which has kept the U.S. workforce competitive and young, will also eventually be viewed as a major positive for the country. Immigrants can fill in gaps, share skills and make an economy more competitive.
Some Latin American countries are taking direct action to attract immigrants. In Chile the government is openly recruiting foreign entrepreneurs and providing them with capital investment through the “Start-Up Chile” program. Brazil has reformed its immigration process and has granted record numbers of work visas to highly-skilled Americans, Europeans and Chinese. In both cases immigration is viewed as a way to fill a need. Chile needs more entrepreneurs and believes that foreigners can help develop a culture of innovation. Brazil requires engineers for its booming oil industry and skilled managers to help boost and maintain industrial and commercial growth. The U.S. and Europe need these things as well. By focusing on what is needed, rather than on what we don’t want, we can develop sensible policies that encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration.
One way for Americans to better understand the benefits of immigration may be to migrate themselves. A number of fast-growing countries in Latin America need talented immigrants and could benefit from the skills Americans provide. Additionally, there are some good opportunities available. According to a recent study, senior managers make better salaries in Sao Paulo than in New York or London.
Immigration often comes full circle, benefiting both the recipient country and the immigrant’s home country. During the next decade the US economy, which is currently transitioning to become leaner and more global, will need more workers with foreign experience and foreign language skills.
This is already happening and I have experienced it firsthand. My own immigrant experience comes from working briefly in Latin America and then for four years London. In both cases I was able to search out a specific opportunity that I could not find in my own country. I then ended up coming back better prepared and with more skills than when I left.
The DREAM Act, which would make the measures that President Obama authorized permanent, is a solution to a number of problems. In social terms it would bring approximately 1 million young undocumented immigrants into the formal system, allowing them to go to college and work once graduated, and it would allow those that serve in the military to become citizens. In economic terms the legislation would potentially increase federal revenues by $1.7 billion over the next 10 years and the Dreamers themselves would generate between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion in taxable income during the course of their working lives.
Imagine what full-fledged immigration reform would do.
President Obama has finally come around to viewing immigration as a solution. While his election campaign may be more interested in how the measure can solve their political problems, he was right about one thing. It’s the right thing to do.
(Photo: Flickr-Sasha Y Kimel)