Scrambling for the immigrant elite

By John Lloyd
May 14, 2013

A new era has arrived in immigration. Many countries – the United States, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands – have for decades taken in poor immigrants with the express intention that they would do work that native citizens had become reluctant to do. The labor was either too hard, too cheap or too dangerous for the locals.

Now the rich countries don’t want poor people. Many of the production-line jobs they came to do have been automated – or the industries they came to work in, as the cotton mills of Lancashire in the UK, have mostly closed. The Immigration Bill now before the U.S. Congress and Senate is crafted to legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to “attract… the world’s brightest and best-educated people.” As automation takes over more unskilled work and as the demand for labor emphasizes skills that higher education usually teaches, the needs of the United States and other developed countries change.

The heated debates over immigration and its consequences power the rise of the populist parties in Europe and push centrist governments towards tougher curbs. But the debates may soon seem beside the point: The traditional emigrant states are beginning to want their best minds back. The hunt for clever people is globalized: Universities, companies, even government bureaucracies seek them here and seek them there. The needs of the developed world and the greater needs of the developing world now conflict.

Western immigration has a long history. Pakistanis were employed to staff the declining cotton industry in the north of England from the 1960s. Mexicans have come into California and Texas to work on farms since the mid-19th century: The massive flows have been in the last few decades, with nearly one-third of the Mexican foreign-born population arriving since 2000. Germany imported Turkish immigrants since the sixties with no right or prospect of citizenship, to work in its automobile and other industries.

These days, citizens (including ethnic minority citizens) see in immigration a threat to jobs, social services and their culture. The problems aren’t illusory or – as some liberals have maintained – merely the product of racist attitudes. Germany’s 3-4.5 million citizens of Turkish origin do pose a real problem of integration: The economist Theo Sarazin’s 2010 book, Germany Is Destroying Itself, was excoriated by much of the establishment for its uncompromisingly bleak picture of an unassimilated Turkish population — until part of his argument was accepted by Chancellor Angela Merkel. As the head of the Demos think tank, David Goodhart, stresses in his recent book, The British Dream, over the past decade and a half UK immigration has been unprecedentedly rapid and large, as it has been in France. It has meant a substantial change in the look and culture of some urban areas and increased ghettoization. Goodhart, a liberal himself, was also harshly criticized – only to later see some of his critics agree with him.

Tensions are present in emerging countries as well. Last month, the Turkish Industry Minister Nihat Ergun said that his country no longer wishes to transfer qualified labor to Germany; he has called for a “reverse brain drain.” Turkey is now economically successful; it wants to continue being so, and that takes skilled and ambitious citizens.

This wasn’t the first such declaration and won’t be the last. The rich Western states, many looking at shrinking populations, should all try to emulate Canada’s immigration policy and target highly educated immigrants. As Ergun’s comments show, highly skilled and professional workers were always part of the exodus: Now, the emigrant countries will strive to keep them or woo them back. At the same time, though, Western states will spurn most of the unskilled workers and their families, generally with little education, who had been the mass of immigrants, legal and illegal, in the United States (mainly Mexican), the UK (Pakistani), Germany (Turkish) and France (North African).

Emigration can help poor and relatively poor countries because emigrants send back money to their families – it’s estimated to be around 10 percent of the Philippines’ GDP, 2 percent in Poland and Mexico. It’s much higher in the poor states of Central Asia, whose men increasingly find low-paid work in Russia. But it tends to fall the more successful the emigrants’ countries become. In the mid-seventies, as workers flooded into Germany, the cash they sent back was more than 4 percent of Turkish GDP: Now it’s 0.12 percent. Emigration gives hope – but it’s also a sign of failure.

Mexico, presently undergoing a welcome spurt of growth, needs its professionals and skilled workersas Turkey does. The demands of countries that are leveraging themselves out of mass poverty should trump those of countries that did so decades ago. The rich world’s duty is not to take their best-educated people but to support growth that is sustainable and not corrupt. That can mean more aid, fewer trade barriers, the sharing of expertise, and investment. The influence of the poor who seek a better life has grown, is growing and will grow: As the barriers go up, they need hope at home.

The old arguments about racism, which have so exercised liberals, are not wholly beside the point – racism remains everywhere – but they are less relevant than they were. The fortunate rich countries will benefit at least as much when the aspiring poor countries grow; and for that they need their cleverest people. It’s truly liberal to say: Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…and your energetic, your aspiring, your entrepreneurial individuals – and improve their lives. Then the racism and condescension that thrives on the struggles of immigrants in unfriendly host communities will dwindle, and maybe even, over time, die.

PHOTO: Immigrants take the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony to become new citizens of the U.S. in New York, April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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Comments
3 comments so far

My hat is off to John Lloyd and Reuters for this excellent, timely, and needed essay. This is the first quality article on immigration that I’ve seen in the major media.

Now, to give a perspective from the American engineering profession, which some consider to be the backbone of the American middle class.

The H1B visa program, which brings in foreign engineers to work in American companies, has destroyed the American middle class.

It’s really a simple case of supply and demand. Consider an analogy. Consider, for example, what would happen if H1B were applied to plumbers instead of engineers.

Pick any city, let’s say, Denver, Colorado. Now, bring in 100 busloads of freshly graduated Indian or Chinese plumbers (4,000 new plumbers), who want to enter into the plumbing business in Denver, and make a living.

The result? Wage rates for plumbers will become depressed. The existing 960 American plumbers in Denver, once busy every day, and making a good living, will now have much less work, or no work at all.

All the Denver highschool kids hear from their fathers and uncles that plumbing is no longer a good way to make a living. The plumber wages are going down, down, down. In droves, they choose some other path in life. Who can compete with improverished hordes of plumbers from India who will work for any price? India has 1.17 BILLION people, and many of them are coming here, flooding our labor markets.

The H1B visa law was created, written and lobbied for by large American corporations as a means for decreasing their engineering labor costs. Indeed their corporate profits have zoomed up, up, up — while the wage rates paid to their American engineers have gone down, down, down. If there is such a shortage of American engineers, why are engineering wages going down?

This is what the H1B visa has done to the American engineering profession. H1B has already brought in over one million foreign engineers to America, thus driving down American wage rates, and discouraging American kids from majoring in engineering.

But kudos to Mr. Lloyd and Reuters for this excellent article. Well said.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

“These days, citizens (including ethnic minority citizens) see in immigration a threat to jobs, social services and their culture. The problems aren’t illusory or – as some liberals have maintained – merely the product of racist attitudes.” This is not merely a “threat seen”, but a real and continuing danger to America’s future and that of it’s taxpayers.

“Emigration can help poor and relatively poor countries because emigrants send back money to their families – it’s estimated to be around 10 percent of the Philippines’ GDP, 2 percent in Poland and Mexico.” Precisely. And every dollar thus sent is to the direct disadvantage and at the expense of the American economy, which loses the second, third and fourth “economical bounce” that now occurs in above countries (NOT here).

The United States has historically been the most generous nation in the history of the world, willingly sharing it’s bounty and expertise with those it has defeated in war and those who suffer extraordinary natural disasters. Nonetheless, a majority of non-western nations (and some Western ones) hate Americans and our very way of life.

It’s long past time to look back inward and prepare for our future as our world MUST diminish a population now approaching EIGHT BILLION. America has Canada to the north, Mexico to the south, and fish to the east and the west. Our “adjustment” will be difficult, but not ugly and unmanageable.

That is most definitely NOT the case elsewhere. The rest of the world will soon have to cope with increasing shortage of arable land and unpolluted water. Rising oceans will displace millions if not billions, causing increased crowding and disease. Food prices will rise. Such pressures and resulting desperation make wars more and more likely, given the rampant irresponsibility and lack of leadership on conspicuous display today.

We live in interesting times.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

An honest look at the world today. I thank you Sir! We need more people like you who actually have the courage to speak the truth!

Posted by CarlH | Report as abusive
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