U.S. Immigration – A Little Perspective

February 18, 2017

A lot of claims are made about immigration, especially by those supportive of high rates of immigration into the U.S., no more so than recently.  “We are a nation of immigrants.”  “Our high tech industry needs the special skills that immigrants provide us.”  “Immigrants are ambitious and innovative; 25% of all small businesses are started by immigrants.”  “Immigration boosts our economy through diversity.”  And so on.

Are these claims true?  Do immigrants possess some sort of mystical economic powers lacking in the native-born American population?  Or are these claims mostly hyperbole designed to support some other agenda?

First of all, let’s look at the evidence.  The claim that “we need immigrants to have a viable, vibrant economy” is similar to the claim that “we need free trade in order to have a viable economy.”  Both statements fail the most basic test of logic.  If these statements were true, then it would be impossible for humankind to have a viable economy since we have no trade with or immigrants from other planets.  Think about it.  In order for such a statement to be valid, it has to hold true regardless of how big you draw the circle around any given group of people.

If immigration is critical to a vibrant economy, how does one explain that, of the five largest economies in the world, three rank near the bottom in terms of migration rate?  China, the largest economy in the world and ranking in the top seven percentile in terms of its rate of economic growth, ranks in the bottom half in terms of migration rate.  India, with the fourth largest and seventh fastest-growing economy in the world ranks 84th in terms of migration rate.  And Japan, with the fifth largest economy in the world (but among the slowest-growing economies in the world) ranks 86th in terms of migration rate, with a rate of zero per 1,000 people.  In fact, of the 222 nations on earth, 151 nations have a net migration rate of zero or less.  (Less indicating that they have a net outflow of people.)  Clearly, immigration is no factor at all in determining the health of an economy.  That’s not to say that there aren’t instances where immigrants do, in fact, provide some special skills that are needed by companies and other institutions, but to extrapolate that to mean that more is better simply doesn’t stand up to the data.

There has also been a recent trend in holding up Europe as a shining example of tolerance toward immigration while berating the U.S. for its efforts to reign it in.  If we are to believe the news reports, the European Union (EU) has welcomed an absolute tidal wave of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, while the U.S. deports and talks of building a wall.  Let’s look at the facts.  In 2014, approximately 284,000 “refugees” arrived in the EU, which has a population comparable in size to the U.S.  In 2015, that number exploded to 1.82 million.  In 2016, the EU began “closing the door” and the number of refugees fell back to below the 2014 level, for a total of about 2.3 million over the course of three years.

Compare that figure to the U.S. where over a million illegal immigrants have crossed our southern border year in and year out for decades, while the U.S. admitted legal immigrants at about the same rate – a million per year – for a net influx of two million immigrants per year for as long as most of us can remember.  The fact is that Europe’s rate of immigration is dwarfed by what the U.S. has accommodated for far, far longer.  Yet, we are to see the EU as a shining example of tolerance for immigrants while the U.S. is depicted as intolerant and bigoted?  Give me a break!

This is a good time to take a closer look at legal immigration into the U.S.  Here’s the State Department’s statistics on visas issued for the 2012 – 2016 time frame.  As you can see, the number of immigrant visas issued has grown by about 50% over the past four years to nearly 618,000.  But take a look at the “non-immigrant category,” which is visas issued for temporary stay.  These are running close to eleven million per year – 13 million when you include “B1/B2 Border Crossing Cards.”  That sounds alarming at first, but let’s take a look at what these are.  Here’s a listing of the non-immigrant visas, broken down by category.  (The data for 2016 isn’t available yet.)  The vast majority of non-immigrant visas are for temporary visits for  business and pleasure.  However, there are a couple of categories that we do need to be concerned about:  F and M visas for students, which totaled nearly 700,000 in 2015, and H visas for “temporary workers.”  We’ll come back to that.

Let’s take a look at where most of the people migrating to the U.S. originate.  In 2016, of the 617,752 immigrant visas issued, 249,000 were immigrants from Asia.  Most of these were people from China, the Philippines, Vietnam and India, in that order.  222,000 were from North America, predominantly Mexico, followed by the Dominican Republic.  Most of the remainder were from Africa, spread across most African countries.  If you’re interested, here’s the complete breakdown from the State Department.

As you can see, the vast majority of people who immigrated to the U.S. in 2016 came from rather poor nations.  So how are we to believe that they possess some kind of mystical economic powers, or come to the U.S. with skills and education that just can’t be found among native-born Americans?  When you look at all the facts, such claims are clearly nonsense.

The fact is that immigrants bring nothing more to the table than do native-born Americans.  They are just people – no different than the rest of us.  As such, in the final analysis, there is only one real effect of immigration, and that is to grow the population.  And if that is the only effect of immigration, then any discussions of the merits of immigration that don’t begin and end with questioning the wisdom of growing our population are ruses, meant to confuse us in the hope of advancing some other agenda.  Like what?  Like using population growth to prop up economic growth, to drive consumer demand, to suppress wages and to fatten corporate bottom lines, just to name a few.

Putting a halt to illegal immigration and deporting those who have already entered illegally is a no-brainer.  A country that doesn’t control its borders is no country at all.  The real question is whether our current rate of legal immigration is appropriate.  Do we need to be growing our population?  In light of the relationship between population density and declining per capita consumption and rising unemployment, do we really need more people?  In light of the seemingly insurmountable challenge posed by global warming, do we really need more carbon emitters?  Is it appropriate for the U.S. to function as a population relief valve for other overpopulated nations?  Or are we merely exacerbating all these problems?

The time has come to begin scaling back the rate of influx of immigrants.  But where do we begin?  Legal immigration is like a pipeline that the longer the tap stays open, the faster the flow becomes.  Believe it or not, the place to start is not by trying to close the tap, but by slowing the source that fills the pipeline.  What I’m saying is that we need to begin with a hard look at student visas.  In my next post, we’ll take a close look at how student visas are driving all of the other classes of immigrants and the harm being done to our young people and our workers.  Stay tuned.