Sunday, May 9, 2010

Real immigration reform now!

I believe people everywhere in the world ought to be free to choose where they want to live and work. In addition, quite apart from that moral argument, I believe free movement of labor makes everyone better off by improving the utilization of the scarcest resource: Human capital.

The U.S. immigration system is a mess. Most American citizens are utterly unfamiliar with the particular ways the system makes it hard for decent, hard-working, law-abiding foreigners to come to the U.S. to work.

There is a simple way to improve the situation.

These recommendations would work for every country.

First, secure the borders: A country without borders is no country: It's a land mass with people on it.

Second, grant no additional rights to people who have already broken the rules.

Third, enact comprehensive, real immigration reform:

1. Get rid of the myriad visa categories: Foreigners in a country need to be grouped in to no more than three categories:

Immigrants (those who intend to move to a country permanently)

Temporary visitors (such as students, tourists, ship crew etc)


2. For immigration requests, charge a non-refundable application fee that is equal to the poverty line. The current poverty line for an individual is $10,830 in the U.S. So, for a family of three, the application fee would be $32,490. There is no need for a sliding scale here. All applicants who pass background checks after depositing the non-refundable fee, get to live in the U.S. for a five year probationary period and pay a fee equal to the poverty line during every year of the probationary period (parents pay the same fee for every child they are bringing with them).

3. If, at the end of the five year probationary period, the individual has remained in good standing, allow them to extend their residency by another five years or apply for citizenship.

A simple formula should determine how an immigrant's fees are allocated among federal, state and local governments. Local governments should not get any money for non-paying foreigners.

This simple, straightforward system would ensure orderly immigration.

It would undermine criminal human smuggling networks who charge similar fees but make their clients travel inside 120°F trailers like animal feed rather than in air-conditioned buses or on airplanes.

It would ensure that those who earn technical degrees at U.S. educational institutions stay in the U.S. if there is enough demand for their services and it would ensure people in highly sought out professions such as plumbing and landscaping can come in to fulfill demand for their services.

That is: There is no chance such a simple and straightforward system would be implemented.

Politicians who see immigrants as a big amorphous mass of votes will pass some sort of amnesty bill which will, among its other nasty effects, lead human smugglers and the associated criminal networks to raise the fees they charge, but not to orderly immigration and integration.


  1. There are 1 billion people in places poorer than Mexico, and many of them would love to move here (mostly bringing no skills at all). So if your advice were followed, soon enough we would have cities ringed with squatter camps. We would have to get rid of all social welfare whatsoever, including the most minimal safety net which most people rely upon, simply because we could not afford to provide anything for the hundreds of millions who would move here.

    And besides that, many of us think that the greatest thing about the US is in the fact it still has many uncrowded areas with natural beauty. We do not want hundreds of millions of new people (often with high fertility rates) moving in and filling in our empty spaces. Maybe you should spend a little time traveling around the US and developing some appreciation of what is great baout it.

  2. @Charlie What matters in terms of efficiency of immigration is not whether you like the particular skills an immigrant brings, but whether the immigrant thinks she can still benefit from coming to the U.S. after paying the non-refundable application fee plus the annual fee during the five year probationary period.

    If a person is willing to endure the emotional hardship and pay all that money, by definition, that person must expect to generate economic benefits beyond that.

    The only people for whom this argument breaks down are people who live in close proximity to the U.S. and come and go as they wish through a porous border. That is why protecting the borders is essential.

    Your assumption that somehow a billion lazy, dirty people would fill up the U.S. to capacity seems unwarranted: The only real effect of this type of a mechanism would be to deny human smugglers their revenue and open up legal immigration to the U.S. for new, law abiding immigrants.

  3. @Anonymous Thank you for the link to that YouTube video. However, I am not going to post the link here.

    IMHO, it would be beneficial to all concerned if current American citizens understood the difference between law abiding immigrants who are trying to obey the rules and adapt and integrate and those who try to create unrest and division.

    An immigration process that made it harder to just go across the border and enjoy benefits but made it *simpler* and more *efficient* to apply from the rest of the world would actually reduce the influence of such mono-ethnic, divisive movements.

  4. I agree completely with Mr. Unur. Allowing more well educated, law abiding foreigners to live and work in the United States is greatly beneficial to both parties. Restricting the number of visas to qualified foreigner applicants (ie. H-1B visas) will only do more harm to the American economy in the long run.

    In fact, our history of granting such visas to qualified foreigners has done wonders to vastly increase our talent pool in this country. Contrarily, countries such as Japan, whose future workforce is greatly threatened by an aging population and simultaneously low birth rate, could improve their situation immensely if they only embraced qualified foreign workers instead of shunning them.

    I find it worrisome that the number of H-1B visas has been on the decline in recent years and hope that people start recognizing the importance of such talented, hard-working people in our society.