“How America Fell Behind the World on Immigration”


“In the world of immigration, the United States of America is a rogue state.

“It wasn’t always so. There was a time in the early 20th century when the United States was viewed by the world as a paragon of immigration policy. 

“…However, thanks to decades of partisan brinkmanship and polarizing identity politics, it has now been 32 years since Congress passed a major piece of legislation governing immigration—a matter of pivotal social and economic consequence. It has been even longer since the landmark 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act abolished quotas based on national origins and focused American policy thereafter on the admission of people with family ties—principles that form the foundation of U.S. immigration policy today. Since then, other countries have put in place new regimes that admit and integrate immigrants as part of modern national strategies related to labor recruitment, business development and demographic aging. Australia’s Parliament passes tweaks to its immigration laws almost every month.

“My co-author Anna Boucher and I have…found that the world has largely shifted to a model of immigration policy that approaches immigration more as an economic instrument than a statement of values. These policies reflect the logic of a global ‘gig economy’ that views people as commodities to recruit, employ and dismiss at will. In contrast, U.S. regulations emphasize admissions for the purpose of family reunification, limit the admission of highly skilled migrants, limit temporary migration, and…facilitate access to American citizenship.

“Once the standard-bearer, the United States is now the outlier.

“…America has settled on immigration regulations designed for an era that preceded the internet, free trade and the end of the Cold War.

“…By preserving anachronistic policies, American regulation both hinders our competitiveness but reflects the spirit of equality and humanity that infused the legal reforms of the late 1960s…[N]ew proposals from the Trump administration will only make us less economically competitive and less humane.

“Our study of citizenship and immigration flows…covers former settler states like the United States, but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We examine Japan and South Korea, the Nordic states and all continental European countries from Germany westward. We also include many countries from the developing world, where nearly half the world’s migrants go today. 

“…With only a few exceptions, we find that three key trends characterize today’s immigration outcomes:

“Temporary visas: Immigrants enter on more temporary visas that…limit their residency entitlement to a short term.

“Labor migration: Most permanent visas admit immigrants for their labor or under regional free movement agreements designed to facilitate labor mobility.

“Fewer naturalizations: These policies mean fewer immigrants are able to access citizenship and the full set of freedoms, rights and protections it entails.

“With these priorities, other countries have evolved to recognize immigration as a crucial strategy to combat demographic aging, recruit innovators, attract highly skilled professionals and fill labor gaps with limited new membership. Some…have devised points-based systems that admit migrants based on the extent to which they fulfill ‘merit’ criteria…Other countries…have established overseas labor recruitment offices to promote and facilitate temporary migration. 

“…These governments have identified the specific ways that immigration benefits their economies and their populations, and have proactively sought to design systems that deliver immigration in the manner they wish. The United States, unfortunately, has largely left immigration to the inertia around an outdated system and assumed that America’s magnetic power will override the benefits of considered strategy for recruitment, admissions and retention.

“…From the perspective of many moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats, American policies are makeshift and haphazard. We turn away millions of highly skilled professionals, patent filers and young contributors to the tax base. We are an anachronism that fails to compete at the international level for the best and the brightest and fails to manage flows responsibly. 

“…The problem is that our failure to modernize this relatively humane system has led to unquantifiable, missed economic opportunities and gross inefficiencies that have inflamed political conflict.

“…The United States can lead the world on immigration again. But putting up walls, metaphorical or real, is not the way to do it.

To read the full article, please click here