Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy, Winter 1997-98.

In the wake of the Cold War, as Soviet missiles lay rusting in their cages, the fretful turned their worried gaze toward international migration, one of a host of new "transnational" challenges. For veteran students of immigration, this burst of attention brought some gratification. But attention is one thing; alarm is another: The dispiriting legacy of this sudden obsession with immigration has been the dangerous elevation of myths and half-truths to the status of conventional wisdom.

Immigration to the western industrialized countries is out of control.

False. The main thing "out of control" about immigration to the industrialized countries is the level of panic that the subject seems to trigger. The breakup of the Soviet Union provoked Europe?s first immigration-induced anxiety in decades. Although the Russians never came, mass exoduses from Yugoslavia to its immediate neighbors; and, to a much lesser degree, from Albania to Italy; and from Haiti and Cuba to the United States made for vivid television. Underemployed strategists found ready audiences for threat assessments that treated such events as precedents rather than exceptions, the first rocks in a crumbling avalanche.
An all-too-familiar chorus (namely, those eager to exploit the issue for electoral gain), quickly took up the refrain of international migration as a security threat. Politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Patrick Buchanan in the United States, Umberto Bossi in Italy, and Jörg Haider in Austria thundered about barbarians at the gates, growing ever more dependent on the politics of division and intolerance for their popular support. Meanwhile, their more rational colleagues, who might have defended immigration on the grounds that receiving nations were "doing well by doing good," too often remained silent. Capitalizing on the growing economic unease and social aimlessness worldwide, alarmist books such as Peter Brimelow?s Alien Nation in the United States and Jean Raspail?s The Camp of the Saints in France captured a frustrated public?s willingness to believe.
Contrary to the shrill alarmism that has distorted public debate on immigration in most rich countries in the 1990s, immigration is not out of control. Consider the facts. Seven out of eight immigrants who have settled in rich countries arrived through highly regulated channels that serve the needs of the receiving countries as much as the immigrants themselves?hardly a situation that could be called out of control. Although it is true that in absolute numbers immigration levels are at or near historic highs in many rich countries, the classic immigration countries?Australia, Canada, and the United States?currently report much lower relative proportions of immigrants in their populations than those recorded at the turn of the century. But even nontypical immigration countries such as France, Germany, and Japan have experienced significant levels of immigration in the past. By the eve of the First World War, Germany was employing about 1.2 million foreigners, most of whom settled there permanently. (The number of foreigners in Germany swelled to 7.8 million by 1944 with the forced labor programs of the Second World War.) Similarly, France accommodated roughly 2.5 to 3.5 million foreign-born persons in the interwar period, and, beginning in 1910, Japan could count an increasing number of Koreans in its midst?a number that grew to about 500,000 by 1935 and swelled to 2.1 million in 1945.
Two significant differences between current migration patterns and ones from earlier this century are that today?s immigrants have fanned out and their source countries have diversified enormously. Germany now hosts nearly as many foreign residents on a per capita basis as Canada, and France roughly as many as the United States. Germany started its transformation into a leading immigration country in the late 1950s, when it began to receive large numbers of guest workers from a handful of the Mediterranean Littoral countries. Today, Germany is home to foreign-born persons from about 100 countries?many of whom have used work programs and asylum as their routes of entry. (The United States now includes immigrants from practically every country.) France, striving until the 1970s to replenish massive population losses from two world wars and fuel its economic growth, also attracted a diverse group of new arrivals (although Francophones, regardless of their country of origin, have constituted the bulk of its immigrants). Among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member states, Luxembourg and Switzerland?nations that have traditionally relied on a substantial number of foreign workers?continue to have among the highest proportions of long-staying noncitizens in their populations, with 34 and 19 percent respectively.
Yet most of the estimated 100 to 120 million people who live outside their countries of origin at any given time?about 2 percent of the world?s population and 10 percent of the OECD?s?are found in the developing world. Even more remarkable, an astonishing majority of the world?s refugees (who account for roughly one-third of that total) settle in less developed countries, usually those neighboring their own. So next time you hear that unwanted immigrants are overrunning Canada or the United States, spare a thought for Malawi, where, according to the 1993 World Refugee Survey, refugees outnumbered local residents more than two to one in some districts.
Legal immigrants now impose net costs on their rich hosts.

False. A nation?s interest in assessing the costs and benefits of immigration typically coincides with periods of high immigration, protracted economic downturns, and social, cultural, and political introspection. The 1990s clearly meet all preconditions. But even in good economic times, most analyses look at immigration through the prism of "adverse effects" and use the lexicon of labor market competition and displacement. Few countries invest as much in such assessments as the United States. Accordingly, U.S. studies dominate the literature, with only a few studies emerging from Australia, Canada, and Europe.

Cost-benefit assessments of immigration are notoriously hard to conduct. Authoritative conclusions are rare. In the United States, for example, officials did not agree on an accounting framework for such calculations until recently, when the issue of fiscal costs imposed on states and localities by undocumented immigrants began to dominate discussions about immigration. The cost of services to undocumented immigrants, especially the education of their children, continues to cloud the overall picture of expenditures associated with legal immigration.
Nonetheless, there is widespread analytical agreement among the OECD countries that, at the aggregate level, immigration benefits employers, consumers, and a country?s international economic position and does not adversely affect (at least not in measurable ways) either the job opportunities available or the wages of domestic workers in complementary jobs. Studies done by the OECD, as well as in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United States are unequivocal on these counts. In most instances, immigrants also appear to enjoy significant labor market success?although the flexibility of a country?s labor market can have a substantial impact on the ability of immigrants to succeed. A recent exhaustive report by the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences echoes and ratifies these assessments, concluding that "immigration produces net economic benefits for domestic residents." But although no reputable study anywhere has disagreed with this conclusion, the size of the net benefits that these studies can measure tends to be small and is thought to vary with such factors as the skill, age, and family composition of the immigrant stock; the economic sector in which the immigrants enter; the overall economic conditions of their areas of settlement; and the immigrants? legal status.
Of course, immigration affects segments of the receiving country?s population in different ways. Consumers, investors, and firms that employ immigrants typically benefit from immigration. For workers, it is more of a mixed bag. The closest analogy here may be to that of trade liberalization. Like workers in firms that are robust enough to take advantage of trade openings, workers whose jobs complement those of immigrants usually benefit from immigration. However, those who compete with immigrants in uncompetitive industries and firms with low productivity will face lower wages and, in some instances, restricted job opportunities. Academic debates about a country?s economic gains from immigrants aside, there is near universal agreement that immigrants have played a major role in creating the prosperity of most advanced industrial societies, through both their brawn and their brains. In countries that have recognized the benefits of immigration and tried to create legal and institutional "level playing fields" for them, immigrants have been sources of energy and new ideas. They increase the ranks of entrepreneurs, open up opportunities for culture and commerce, and renew public institutions. In addition, immigrants typically exhibit values?including family values and work habits?that most closely approximate those to which many receiving societies aspire but no longer seem capable of consistently producing.
Take the issue of crime rates, for instance. U.S. immigrants are only one-third to two-thirds as likely to be incarcerated as the native-born?even though, as presumed "flight risks," they are more likely to be detained and jailed upon apprehension. Although the U.S. National Academy of Sciences? study settles the issue of the economic benefits of immigration, it does so without factoring in the benefits that host nations receive from immigrants whose upbringing and education have been paid for by other, usually poorer, countries. For example, according to the 1990 U.S. Census, about 63 percent of immigrants to the United States had at least a high school education and nearly 21 percent of all immigrants had a college degree or better. At the primary school level, the native-born are one-and-a-half times more likely to have graduated from high school. The numbers level out at the college level, with an equal percentage of native- and foreign-born receiving college degrees. However, immigrants are one-and-a-half times more likely to have a graduate degree than their native-born counterparts. Since 1990, several changes in U.S. law have opened the door to more immigrants with college and postgraduate degrees; these same individuals receive explicitly preferential treatment in Australia and Canada and de facto preference throughout the OECD countries. The many long-term, temporary migrants not counted in immigration statistics?who, for the most part, gain access to a country because of their skills and formal qualifications?push these averages even higher. The academy?s study also does not calculate the value of the upstream and downstream economic effects of immigrant-led expansion in immigrant-dependent industries (even in industries such as agriculture or garments); the trade openings created or expanded by immigrants; or the dollar value of immigrants? personal industry, innovation, and dynamism to the receiving society. Although hard to quantify, these benefits are essential to a complete assessment of immigrant contributions.
The benefits that legal immigrants bring do not imply either that all immigrants improve their receiving country?s general welfare or that more immigration will prove advantageous for these countries. Responsible governance and good management require that immigration levels be flexible, that the impact of immigration on the labor market be monitored (so that immigration policy remains broadly in line with human resources policies), that its demographic effects be clearly understood (and in line with the goals of the receiving country), and that unanticipated and undesirable social effects (including unwarranted access to a country?s welfare system) be addressed quickly though equitably.
Illegal immigration is a major economic and social problem.

Half-true. About 10 to 15 percent of the immigrants in rich countries are unauthorized?a bit more in the United States, a bit less in Australia and Canada. Unauthorized immigrants typically enter by illegal means, but large pluralities of them (about 40 percent in the United States) enter legally and fail to depart when their visas expire. Another category involves those who enter under a proper visa but violate its terms, usually by working. No good estimates exist yet on the extent of this type of illegality, but many of the Czechs and Poles who enter Germany on an automatic three-month tourist visa, for example, are widely thought to be accessing the German labor market. All three types of illegal immigrants tend to reflect roughly the same skills and overall demographic composition as legal immigrants from their same ethnic group. They arrive via similar pathways and tend to settle in the same areas. In fact, they are often members of the same households. And in the United States at least, many unauthorized immigrants actually have an approved legal claim to immigrate but are waiting for visas to become available.

Furthermore, to anyone familiar with the ground-floor realities of the labor markets in advanced social democracies, many of the economic concerns frequently voiced about illegal immigration can seem forced and even contrived. Most unauthorized immigrants concentrate in jobs that have long been abandoned by the country?s legal work force. In Japan, many of its approximately 400,000 illegal migrant workers tend to be found in jobs characterized by the "three Ks": kiken, kitsui, and kitanai, or "dangerous, difficult, and dirty." Throughout the advanced industrial world, with its entrenched systems of generous social welfare, one would be increasingly hard-pressed to find natives, or even long-term legal immigrants, picking fruits and vegetables, doing "back-of-the-house" restaurant and hotel work, sewing garments, or providing most household and personal services. This is the peasant work of postindustrial society. Yet many social reformers continue to argue that unauthorized immigrants cause "adverse wage and labor market effects"?as though the language of competition and displacement were the only appropriate lexicon in these circumstances. Paradoxically, unauthorized immigrants may have the least adverse effect on workers because their work most directly complements that of their domestic counterparts. Moreover, undocumented immigrants also form the backbone of the service industries that have sprouted to support middle-class, dual-income families.
Rather than bemoan a problem that may be more imagined than real, governments would be far wiser to experiment with changes that might make some of these jobs appealing to legal workers, while devising a bundle of positive and negative incentives to move some unemployed workers and welfare recipients into these?now somewhat upgraded?jobs. If a society "chooses" not to do so, as most rich countries continue to do, or if its experiments are only partly successful, then its officials should negotiate proper mechanisms with sending countries to ensure that the latter?s citizens have highly regulated, safe, and nonexploitative access to those jobs that First World citizens no longer find palatable. The labor market should then be allowed to determine who should become permanent immigrants and who should remain temporary, perhaps on the basis of their progress toward learning the language of the host country or their investments in acquiring additional human capital. If a society finds the implications of this route unappealing, it should consider gradually surrendering such economic sectors to the developing world and protecting its economic interests through appropriate trade agreements.
Even though the economics of unauthorized immigration are not as broadly negative as zealots and their coterie of activist scholars would have us believe, many concerns about the social (and political) consequences of illegal immigration are valid: The presence of a large population of unauthorized immigrants undermines the principle that successful societies are governed by the rule of law and thus provokes considerable popular anxiety. Illegal immigration is also destructive in that it helps to stoke xenophobic rhetoric. This rhetoric often seeks to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration, in the deliberate hope that an always ambivalent public will become disenchanted with all forms of immigration (a good explanation for why defenders of generous levels of legal immigration can often seem as keen as their philosophical adversaries to eliminate illegal immigration). The lesson: The symbolism of demonstrating that someone is indeed "minding the store" on the big aspects of immigration is critical to ensuring popular support for generous policies.
Only drastic measures can stop illegal immigration.

False. Declaring war on illegal immigration is a good applause line, but wars, lest we forget, impose terrible sacrifices. Such bellicose rhetoric reflects and reinforces an alarmism that does more harm than good. Unintended but predictable border incidents, vigilantism, racially motivated violence, and discrimination in the workplace are the types of consequences that ethnically diverse societies can ill-afford?and all rich countries are now ethnically diverse.

Furthermore, such rhetoric effectively precludes a rational assessment of various policy options. The actions it inspires?militarizing borders, requiring national I.D. cards, or conducting highly intrusive workplace raids and indiscriminate street sweeps?sully a state?s standing in the international community and raise serious concerns about civil liberties. Witness the huge outcry in Mexico each time the United States ups the enforcement ante on its southern border, or in civil rights and ethnic communities when enforcement actions mistakenly violate the rights of legal immigrants and citizens. Perhaps even more damaging in the long run may be that such extremism conveys the message to less developed countries that overreacting in matters of unwanted immigration should be tolerated?think of South Africa, struggling to do the "right" thing about an unauthorized immigrant population that is several times larger per capita than that of any Western country, while also building a new society.
What to do instead? Consider small tactical steps deployed in a comprehensive manner; they could yield far better returns. For example, sustained border controls that seek the gradual cooperation of neighbors and interior enforcement strategies that engage those groups affected (e.g., employers or ethnic communities) can, over time, diminish the number of people attempting to enter and/or remain illegally. The simultaneous enforcement of other rules?such as workplace rules and the apprehension and expulsion of criminal immigrants?could, in the long term, substantially lower the number of people who, having arrived, elect to stay and work illegally. In both instances, consistency counts more than fitful bouts of concern followed by periods of neglect.
Those receiving countries that consistently apply clear immigration rules, monitor the effectiveness of experiments, and employ prudent management can stop problems before they spin out of control. An example from the asylum system demonstrates this last point. In the last few years, large numbers of asylum applications?many of them frivolous?clogged the asylum determination systems of most rich democracies and created powerful political backlashes against the institution of asylum. There were various responses to this challenge?Germany amended its constitution, most other European countries changed their processing and administrative procedures, and the United States first clarified its rules, then beefed up its processing capacity, and, this year, followed Europe?s example by making it more difficult for certain asylum seekers to file a claim in the first place. The merits of these actions have raised legitimate concerns among those who care about the fate of people fleeing persecution of any kind. What is not disputed is the effect of these actions: In each case, asylum applications dropped dramatically.
Open borders and free markets are the best way to take care of migration.
False. Opening borders to very large immigration flows, as many Libertarians argue, may hold some appeal as an intellectual exercise, in that the market would than be allowed to regulate flows; presumably, it could do so more "efficiently" than any government might. The social and political costs of such an approach, however, make it a nonstarter. But although few policymakers would publicly subscribe to such a view, in practice, many have responded to the challenges of immigration with a polite yawn (when they are not having one of their episodic anxiety attacks about it). Indeed, could it be that once the current sense of crisis in the rich countries subsides, their leaders may once again lapse back into apathy?
Immigration is not an unmitigated good. In addition to fueling severe social and political reactions, large flows can seriously destabilize labor markets. As a result, immigration requires close, effective management if a country is to maximize potential benefits and minimize costs. Successful policy requires broad and intense interagency coordination, particularly in the labor market and social services? areas; consistent engagement by senior policymakers to promote the success of major initiatives that may lack clear popular support; a willingness to stay the course and to educate the public on the need for both enforcement and services; and a readiness to experiment with nontraditional practices (i.e., employing intelligence services to infiltrate and defeat organized people-smuggling or expending diplomatic resources to secure the cooperation of sending and transit countries). Above all, good immigration policy requires countries to decide where they want to be in the future?and how immigration can help them get there.
Immigration is largely an internal problem that governments can handle unilaterally.

False. Again, not the sort of attitude many right-thinking policymakers would admit to, but one that many practice, either by default or by implicitly equating bilateral or multilateral approaches with the erosion of a nation?s ability to advance its own interests. In fact, there are few issues as fraught with international complications and potential for conflict as migration. Therefore, the more diplomatic capital that nations invest in building a common bilateral and regional understanding about immigration, the better they will be able to control unwanted migration in the longer run. At some point the rich countries will have to negotiate the issues that they have so far avoided because they have been unwilling to give up anything of significance. But if the pressure imposed by unauthorized immigration is both strong and growing, then the goals of such talks should be clear: to enlist the support of source and transit countries against unregulated migration in return for concessions by the rich countries on regulated temporary immigration, investment, and assistance in areas such as training and education, and support for the development of social and physical infrastructures.

Compare U.S.?Mexican relations in this regard with those between Germany and Poland. The history of the former is an object lesson in the cost and, so far, apparent futility of unilateral efforts at border control. In contrast, Germany, despite its high unemployment rate, offers visa-free entry to Poles (and Czechs) and maintains a variety of preferential policies for the temporary employment of large numbers of them?200,000 people in each of the last few years; Germany is also investing prodigiously in the Czech Republic and Poland. This policy is thought to have substantially reduced illegal entries from these countries while supporting Germany?s strategic economic aspirations and interests to its east. Generally, offering such preferences to a neighbor not only diminishes the number of unauthorized immigrants from that country but enlists it as an ally in efforts to intercept third country migration and crack down on syndicates that engage in organized people-smuggling and other illegal activities.
That we live in an interlinked world is no less true for being a truism. Increasingly, we have come to understand that, as neighbors, we share a common environment and an interdependent economic destiny, and have factored that understanding into our trade and environmental accords. Surely our immigration policies should be no different.
How to Manage Migration Base immigration policy on the following core principles:
1) Immigration should enrich the receiving country?s economic, scientific, and cultural life; respond to humanitarian values; and fulfill international legal obligations. 2) Immigration should balance the needs of the country?s employers with the interests of its workers. 3) Immigration succeeds when immigrants do. Therefore, a sound policy should enhance the prospects for immigrants to prosper. 4) Immigration policy should respond to changing conditions, with reforms undertaken with a scalpel rather than a cleaver. Avoid swinging between extremes.

Countries should develop the political and institutional capacity to identify problems, conduct carefully monitored experiments, and implement well-fashioned solutions. When it comes to immigration, most rich countries alternately act like ostriches with their heads in the ground or like house-cats on a night-tear. This unstable behavior produces bad policy, diminishes popular support for immigration, and undermines confidence in public institutions?not just in the government of the day.

Do not get carried away with legislative hubris.

Many rich countries have recently passed punitive laws in a paroxysm of angst, only to see central elements of these laws scrutinized or amended within months. In France and the United Kingdom, new governments made the review of immigration laws a priority and quickly introduced amending legislation. In the United States, a form of "buyer?s remorse" seems to have set in soon after lawmakers saw the human costs involved with their changes to immigration laws in 1996. States also need to avoid introducing complex, inconsistent regulations that encourage opportunism by those seeking to beat the system and arbitrary behavior by those charged with administering it.

Put one agency in charge of immigration and give it the authority and resources to do its job.

In most industrialized nations, the immigration service is often the stepchild of another ministry?or worse, responsibility for immigration is divided among various governmental departments, creating a predictable lack of accountability. Rich countries should emulate Australia and Canada, whose governments have created cabinet-level agencies to coordinate and execute their immigration policies. Because these agencies monitor all aspects of immigration, they can spot and fix minor problems before they become large ones, develop a constructive relationship with their legislative overseers (including the ability to secure the resources they need), and adjust their policies regularly to serve the changing priorities of the nation.

Engage with neighbors and build solid regional relationships.

Immigration may become a source of conflict for those countries with long borders, complex histories, and vast economic disparities. The United States and Mexico, Germany and Poland, South Africa and its neighbors, and even France and Algeria come to mind. In each of these cases, investing in the bilateral relationship can reduce problems and yield benefits. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent, might not it be time for nations to think about codifying acceptable guidelines on the treatment of one another?s nationals?

Develop a proactive policy of public education and leadership.

Immigration is not a self-evident good. Bringing strangers into a society?even one as diverse as that of Canada or the United States?is never easy. To prevent conflict and discrimination, governments must demonstrate strong leadership in public education and awareness?an example set by President Roman Herzog and former president Richard Von Weizsaecker in Germany and New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Furthermore, governments must meet the diversity challenge without denying its existence or attempting to accommodate every particular interest at the expense of a common set of goals or principles. Only states that meet this challenge will be the successful societies of the next century.

A Migration Glossary
Asylee: An alien present in the receiving country or at a port of entry who has been granted protection because he or she is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.
Asylum: Protection from persecution, arrest, or extradition granted by a nation, embassy, or other agency.
Displaced Person: People forced to flee from their homes due to violence, conflict, or persecution who have not crossed an international border (est. 24 million worldwide). Trapped by conflict, many are potential refugees.
Immigrant: An alien admitted to a receiving country as a lawful permanent resident.
Migrant: A person who moves from one country, place, or locality to another.
Refugee: The Geneva Convention defines a refugee as any person living outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear thereof may be based on the alien?s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. People with no nationality must be outside their country of last habitual residence to qualify as a refugee. Other conventions, most notably those of the Organization of African Unity and the Cartagena Convention, which is followed by many South American states, have more expansive definitions.
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): Established in 1951 as a humanitarian and nonpolitical organization to protect refugees, the UNHCR seeks durable solutions through the repatriation of refugees, their integration into the countries where they first seek asylum, or their resettlement to third countries. The UNHCR also provides assistance to those forced to live in refugee-like situations. Along with its protective role, the UNHCR helps refugees by coordinating the provision of shelter, food, water, sanitation, and medical care in emergencies. It also assists and monitors the reintegration of refugees who have recently returned to their home countries.
Want to Know More?

The most recent revisiting of the topic of immigration by policymakers is not a historical aberration but rather a constant. In The Age of Migration (New York: The Guilford Press, 1993), Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller chronicle the history of migration, examining its effects and the dilemmas they present for different countries. Heinz Fassman and Rainier Münz take a more in-depth look at the impact of immigration, providing detailed country studies in European Migration in the Late Twentieth Century (Hants, England: Edward Elgar Publishing Company, 1994).

Although a majority of migrants and refugees settle in less developed and underdeveloped parts of the world, scant attention has been directed toward the impact of migration on developing nations. Demetrios G. Papademetriou & Philip Martin?s The Unsettled Relationship: Labor Migration and Economic Development (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991) looks at the probable policy implications of mass movements of people to these nations.
For more information on the situation in the United States, consult John Isbister?s recent book The Immigration Debate: Remaking America (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1996).In its series of annual reports on Trends in International Migration (Paris: OECD), the OECD?s Permanent System of Observation of Migration provides a comprehensive review of the literature written since the mid-1970s on the macroeconomic impact of immigration in the OECD countries. A more recent cost-benefit analysis, The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997) was conducted by the National Research Council on the impact of immigration on the U.S. economy.
The latest round of debates on immigration policy worldwide has focused on control and regulation. These issues are examined in Wayne Cornelius & Philip Martin?s Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994) and Demetrios G. Papademetriou & Kimberly A. Hamilton?s Managing Uncertainty: Regulating Immigration Flows in Advanced Industrial Countries (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Brookings Institution Press, 1995). For a listing of related Web sites, consult Foreign Policy's Web site at