Throughout human history there has always been evidence of people migrating from place to place in search of new opportunities and a better life. In more recent times, populations have been able to travel further distances and in significantly greater numbers. This increased mobility brings many important advantages, but can also lead to an anti- immigration backlash from those who feel disadvantaged or threatened as a result of the free movement of people. Resulting restrictions imposed on immigration arguably cause the global economy to lose out on an astronomical scale.
Benefits of immigration
Immigration can bring a boost to the local economy, help fill any existing skills shortages, and is a source of foreign investment. Economist, Bryan Caplan, suggests that the global economy could grow by an estimated 50 to 150% if there were no restrictions on the workforce movement worldwide. These trillions of dollars represent a huge potential increase in the global standard of living.
Morally, it is reprehensible to prevent peaceful individuals from having the opportunity to improve their lives, purely based on their country of birth. Effectively, this traps certain people in locations where they will not be able to escape poverty and reach their full potential.
Detractors of immigration tend to imagine that increased migration brings with it an unbearable fiscal burden, when, in reality, this narrative is totally inaccurate. Statistics for the United States (Blau and Mackie, 2016) show that the average Net Present Value (NPV) for immigrants is actually positive and higher than that of native-born citizens. This is true, even for the majority of unskilled workers, meaning that immigration results in a net benefit to the economy.
On the contrary, some people will argue that the benefit to one economy must result in the decimation of the other. However, it is of no benefit to anyone for governments to restrain people from leaving their homelands when there are more opportunities to be productive and thrive elsewhere.
Many migrant workers contribute significantly to the economy of their countries of origin by sending money home to support their families. Furthermore, a relative shortage of workers in certain locations can subsequently result in more opportunities and higher wages for those who decide to remain.
A more global economy, where individuals are free to choose where to live and work, provides significant benefits to producers and consumers alike.
Aside from economic and moral arguments regarding the merits of free movement, there is also much to be gained in terms of increased cultural diversity. Despite many critics’ concerns over the cultural impact of immigration, it is clear that the overall consequence of interaction and integration of people from different cultures has brought about many benefits and cultural enrichment. Many of the world’s most famous cities would be changed beyond recognition without their international element.
With open borders during its first century of existence, the United States can be seen as an excellent example of what is possible when individuals from around the world are afforded an opportunity to pursue their ambitions in the place of their choosing. Restrictions on immigration in the way we know of today were only gradually introduced as a result of increasing xenophobic sentiment against Southern and Eastern Europeans in the 1920s, although there had already been policies discriminating specifically against Chinese immigrants since the 1870s.
Immigration has shaped the modern world and has resulted in increased productivity, prosperity, and individual liberty.
Potential for reform
Today, almost every country has some form of control in place over who can live under their jurisdiction. There is usually a strong bias in favor of only accepting highly skilled immigrants, which can be seen in the case of the points-based systems implemented by countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Alternatively, governments will require a potential immigrant to have already found employment in the country prior to arrival, typically in a position where a local skill shortage exists.
However, given the significant economic gains to be made when governments permit individuals to live and work in the place of their choosing, regardless of their educational or professional background, state control over which individuals are to be considered ‘worthy’ of entering a country, can be seen as problematic.
As well as the moral questions surrounding restrictions on free movement, it would clearly make economic sense to consider reforming certain aspects of state control over immigration, particularly in view of the Net Present Value statistics mentioned above.
Why immigration reform matters to SFL
At Students For Liberty, we believe in the values of individual liberty and freedom of choice. This includes the freedom for each person to choose where they wish to live and work, in order to pursue their own individual ambitions. Someone’s birthplace should not give rise to arbitrary restrictions on their ability to seek out the best possible opportunities for themselves.