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CGD’s Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research identified steps to improve data collection so that researchers and policymakers have the numbers they need to assess the impact of migration. CGD continues to push for implementation.
In this CGD report, the Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research and Policy presents their five recommendations to remedy the lack of good data on migration and its effects on development. The recommendations are politically and technically practical and would allow countries to greatly improve their migration data at low cost, and with existing mechanisms.
We know a lot about how the trade and financial policies of richer countries affect developing countries, either directly or indirectly. We know, for example, that the value of providing poor countries with full access to rich countries' markets would be almost double that of development assistance. We know that foreign direct investment in poor countries provides jobs, helps create local industries, and transfers technologies. But what about the movement of people? How do immigration policies affect developing countries? Do they affect only those who move or do they also affect the sending countries? The sad and surprising answer is that we don't know, and, so long as we don't know, rich countries cannot claim to have the information they need to make sensible development policies.
CGD is committed to understanding how the policies of rich countries affect the welfare and development prospects of poorer countries. Our work and the work of others suggests that rich countries' immigration policies have huge impacts on the lives of immigrants who move from developing to rich countries. We also know that immigration affects the lives of those left behind, with the massive increases in remittances in the past two decades the most visible manifestation of this. But there are other, less visible benefits of immigration that may be far more important to the welfare of sending countries than remittances. But, while we can cite anecdotes in support of these effects, we know almost nothing about their magnitudes. And without that, we cannot know how important immigration policy is as development policy.
To push the issue of better migration statistics, CGD convened the Migration Data for Development Commission to explore one key question: as the international migration debate heats up, what do policymakers need to know about the impact of migration on sending countries if they care about development? (Read the Migration Data Commission background note.) As an obvious corollary to this question the group explored the current state of migration statistics, and what needed to be done to give researchers and policymakers the empirical base they need to assess migration's impact on sending countries.
The working group's report was released in May 2009; CGD continues to push for implementation. The group's ultimate policy impact will be measured by whether or not the OECD or other national and international statistical agencies take initial steps to improve the quality of international migration data, steps that would ideally include instituting routine collection of information on entries and exits that would permit "adding up" of the flows of people across countries (as is the case for trade in goods and services), including standardized definitions of "temporary" versus "permanent" migrants, as well as of major skill and labor categories. Basic measures of this type are an essential starting point for rigorous empirical research on the development effects of migration.
Leadership and Composition
The Migration Data for Development Commission was co-chaired by Professor Lawrence Summers, former chief economist at the World Bank and president of Harvard University, and Patricia Santo-Tomas, chair of the Development Bank of the Philippines
Commissioners included 14 other distinguished experts from a variety of international and academic organizations conducting migration research:
Nancy Birdsall, Center for Global Development
Richard Bilsborrow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Michael Clemens, Center for Global Development
Gero Carletto, World Bank
Dennis de Tray, Center for Global Development
Enrico Giovannini, OECD
Michel Glaude, Eurostat
Béla Hovy, United Nations
Frank Laczko, International Organization for Migration
Douglas Massey, Princeton University
David McKenzie, World Bank
Milena Novy-Marx, MacArthur Foundation
Michel Poulain, Université Catholique de Louvain
Hania Zlotnik, United Nations
Members served in a personal capacity and on a voluntary basis.
In this Wonkcast, originally posted on September 7, 2011, Michael Clemens explains why one of the biggest growth opportunities in the world economy lies not in the mobility of goods or capital, but in the mobility of labor. In his recent blog, Clemens argues we have plenty of reason to celebrate the movement of people – and backs it up with economic evidence. If you found a trillion-dollar bill on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? Michael Clemens thinks he has found a bunch of such bills—huge gains to the poor people and the world economy that could be achieved by easing restrictions on cross-border labor mobility. He has written a working paper that sets forth a new research agenda on migration and is urging economists to pay more attention to the benefits of increased labor mobility for the people who move, the people and countries that receive them, and those who remain at home. In this week’s Wonkcast we discuss his four-point research agenda, and explore why some important questions about labor mobility are so rarely investigated.
Take the topic of so-called “brain drain.” While plenty of research has gone into documenting the exodus of skilled workers from developing countries, Michael says, little research has examined the actual effects of these departures on those left behind—and even less has considered the welfare gains to those who move. “When people talk about migration at the international level, they tend to only focus on the costs,” says Michael. “This negative labeling happens to such a degree that they eventually define the movement with a pejorative little rhyme, brain drain.” Other topics are politically sticky. For example, do emigrants really suppress wages and raise unemployment in host countries, as opponents of migration often allege? What little research there is suggests otherwise. Given the strength of emotions that surround the topic in high-income countries, can such research make a difference? Michael is no stranger to difficult politics of migration, but he remains hopeful that sound research on the benefits to all of increased mobility will open the way for reform—and he points out that even a relatively minor liberalization of restrictions on entry can have huge impact. “A degree of increased labor movement from poor to rich countries of just 5%… would bring more economic gains than the total elimination of every tariff, quota, and barrier to capital movement in the world,” he says. To end, I ask Michael to wrap up with some final thoughts on where migration studies should be headed. His final consideration for economists: development is people, not places. “People in development are too focused on developing countries rather than people,” he says. “But there is very little research on the migrants themselves. Let’s focus on that. Now that they are earning more, let’s find out what is happening to them.” If you have iTunes, you cansubscribeto get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Will McKitterick for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for assistance in drafting this blog post._
In the ongoing debate about immigration reform, pundits and politicians alike have spent both broadcast minutes and column inches waxing poetic about protecting American jobs.
It’s clear protecting American jobs was at top of mind when the Gang of Eight crafted the W visa, a provision of the Senate-passed immigration reform legislation. The proposed “W” visa program would expand opportunities for US firms to hire low-skill foreigners on temporary visas – an economically practical proposal considering how the American economy will need far more low-skill workers in the next several years than there will be American workers to fill those jobs. Filling these jobs is critical. Analysis of Georgia’s economy by the Essential Economy Council shows that every sector of state’s economy relies on goods and services provided by low skill workers in agriculture, facilities services, personal care, and other essential sectors.
But the W visa program is far from perfect: the Senate legislation caps the number of visas available (to 200,000 per year, maximum) without considering growing need for low-skill workers in the US economy. As it stands, US employers demand the labor of about 8 million more people than current law allows them to hire—nearly all in the same kinds of low-skill jobs. There are already about 115,000 workers legally in the US each year with temporary employment visas, and that number would count against the 200,000 per year maximum. And given the political tension of immigration and the complexity of the legislation, it’s likely that the yearly quota for W visas will be far below the 200,000 maximum.
This visa limit is meant to “protect” US workers – as are all the other provisions in the W visa program. In order to hire a W visa workers, US employers will need to apply to become a registered employer, file a petition with the Department of Labor, demonstrate that they made an effort to recruit Americans, and certify that no Americans are available to do the job. Businesses in areas with more than 8.5% unemployment will be denied access to W visa workers—unless they demonstrate that they made additional effort to recruit Americans, pay significantly higher wages, or are hiring for a government-certified ‘shortage’ occupation.
But no one knows if these regulations do protect US workers. Similar regulations exist around the world, in Canada, the UK, France, and Australia, and it’s unclear whether these “citizens first” hiring requirements have any effect on citizen employment. What is clear is that laws like shape the size and composition of the labor force. They are important economic policy, but they are set by a process where talking points take precedence over economic evidence.
The kind of “citizens first” legislation that results actually ends up hurting the economy. The limitations on the W visa, for example, will mean that there are not enough W visas to meet American employer’s demand for low-skilled labor in the years to come. With insufficient legal channels, US businesses will have no choice but to continue to hire unauthorized workers. That sets the stage for another unauthorized immigration crisis a few years from now.
Why don’t all of these regulations, recruitment requirements, and wage floors “protect” American jobs? Perhaps it’s because American jobs don’t need “protecting.” In a new report “Filling the Gap: Less Skilled Immigration in a Changing American Economy”, Madeline Zavodny of the American Enterprise Institute and Tamar Jacoby of Immigration Works USA show that less-skilled migrants don’t compete with less-skilled Americans for jobs because migrants and Americans don’t hold the same jobs - and as Americans’ educational attainment increases, they skill up into new jobs. Less-skilled migrants fill gaps in the US labor force, complementing American low-skilled and high-skilled workers, and, through their contributions, create more opportunities for all American workers.
Access to low skilled workers is critical to economic recovery in the short term and to stemming the flow of undocumented migration in the long term. But arbitrary caps and cumbersome regulations destroy value and starve US businesses of the low-skill labor they need. Of course, we need government regulation to prevent abuses and insure that everyone is playing by the rules, but let’s choose regulations that have been shown to ensure fair play while allowing businesses access to the labor they need.
The design of US economic policy as important as immigration reform should be based on evidence, not the lowest common political denominator.
Migrant advocates rarely say a good word about guest-work visas. Many harshly criticize the conditions and wages of authorized US guest workers as economic exploitation comparable to slavery. Often that’s where their comments end.
I reject this narrative in a letter entered into the Congressional Record last week by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), chair of the US House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.
I ask: Relative to what real option are authorized guest workers exploited?
Relative to not migrating?No. Research by myself and other economists shows that almost all guest workers’ conditions are vastly better than if they could not migrate. Authorized seasonal agricultural workers in the US earn vastly more than they could make at home: The minimum wage for an authorized Mexican seasonal agricultural laborer in the US is around $80 per day; about 16 times Mexico’s minimum wage for low-skill work of $4.95 per day. The workers generally know exactly what they’re getting into (most come back year after year), and they line up for the opportunity. Rigorous impact evaluations have shown massive positive benefits on workers’ families as well (here and here). Authorized guest workers are the exact opposite of ‘cheap labor’; guest work visas make their labor dramatically more valuable.
Relative to migrating with no visa? No. Authorized guest workers earn much more than unauthorized workers doing similar work, and have much better working conditions and legal protection. There is a clear lesson of the 27 years since the last major immigration reform: without flexible, usable, legal channels for less-skilled labor at anything like the scale required by the economy, there will be much more unauthorized immigration. It’s the absence of sound channels for guest work that harms those workers, by driving them underground—as well as harming US workers, who must then compete with workers who have few protections.
Relative to migrating as a permanent resident? No, because almost all of them cannot do this. None of the real immigration reform proposals, now or in any recent year, would create any substantial number of less-skilled permanent resident visas based on employment. For example, in 2006 the Senate passed a bill that would’ve created 325,000 low-skill “H-2C” guest work visas. No one then dreamed of creating 325,000 new low-skill employment-based green cards, or even one tenth of that. It’s the same in this round of attempted reform: For almost all new entrants to fill basic jobs in the US, there will be no employment-based permanent residency option. So comparing their welfare as authorized guest workers to what their welfare would’ve been as hypothetical permanent residents is a fantasy. Eliminating guest work visas means eliminating the only real option for almost all of the same people to experience the benefits of authorized migration in any form.
Obviously any guest work program should protect migrant workers’ rights, making sure that they receive minimum wage, have safe workplaces, and get what they sign up for. That can be done. As I write this, New Zealand is running a highly successful guest worker program that is popular, mutually beneficial, and almost never leads to overstays. Canada’s guest work program is likewise seen as a well-functioning model that leads to truly temporary migration with big benefits for migrants and for both countries. Forget the problematic guest worker programs of two generations ago; the world has moved on since the 1950s and there are much better models now.
I support and admire sincere efforts by advocates to protect people who want to come work in the United States. But eliminating guest-work visas is not the way to do that. Millions of less-skilled foreign workers want to, and will, work in the US over the years and decades to come. The only question is whether this time there will be legal ways for that to happen. Working to eliminate legal guest work options, by ignoring the massive benefits of guest work programs while focusing exclusively on their imperfections, will relegate nearly all potential guest workers to more exploitative alternatives.
It’s time for those who advocate for the interests of foreign workers to start standing up and championing a well-designed program of guest work visas—not relative to utopia, but relative to all the meaningful alternatives those people have.
Migration from poor countries to rich countries can change people’s lives. A doctor-founded startup is exploring how migration can save people’s lives.
Dr. Adam Kushner is a surgeon who noticed two things. First, migrants’ annual remittances to poor countries are vast: about $440 billion next year, more than triple aid. Second, millions of people in poor countries can’t pay for life-saving medical care. At least a quarter of all deaths in Rwanda and in Sierra Leone could be averted with timely surgical intervention. One of the main reasons people don’t get surgery is lack of cash to pay de facto fees.
Kushner founded a startup called CelRx to help migrants buy urgent health care for people back home. CelRx lets overseas relatives make direct, secure payments into hospital bank accounts via PayPal. It costs much less than typical remittances to Africa. It’s also faster: CelRx payments go straight to the hospital, while standard remittances must pass through other offices that can be distant or closed when an urgent transfer is needed. And migrants know exactly where their money is going; they need not trust their cousins’ story about what the money will be used for. (Dean Yang of the University of Michigan and Nava Ashraf of Harvard Business School and co-authors have shown that Salvadoran migrants to the U.S. remit more when they have more control over where the money goes.)
I’m delighted to see medical experts working to help the opportunities of international migration strengthen health care in Africa. It’s a refreshing change from the standard and deeply misguided calls for migration to be stopped by coercive measures in the name of health. Coercing migration is neither an ethical tool nor an effective tool to improve health. Kushner is building tools for better health in a world of mobility.
CelRx is just getting off the ground, currently negotiating payment systems with selected African hospitals. It’s quite different from other organizations set up to pay for urgent health care in developing countries, like Samahope and Watsi. They are charities to help philanthropically-minded people finance urgent care for people they don’t know. CelRx is for migrants to fund care for specific people they know. In developing countries, like everywhere, family and friends are better than strangers at responding immediately and generously to one’s needs.
Now that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and the president have made specific proposals to reform immigration law, you’ll see months of controversy. As is frequent in politics, the most controversial policy step will be among the least important.
I’m talking about the provisions, in both proposals, for an “earned path to citizenship” for the 11 million people residing in the U.S. without legal permission. (People who like this plan call it “regularization”, people who dislike it call it “amnesty”.) Showcase policy steps like this don’t affect unauthorized immigration nearly as much as the pathways for U.S. employers to smoothly, flexibly hire foreign labor when they need to.
Read this twice: I am not saying that the status of unauthorized immigrants isn’t important. I’m saying that the policy step of a path-to-citizenship is unlikely to be an important determinant of the unauthorized immigrant population, even in the short term.
This is clear from U.S. history. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan created a path to citizenship for most of the 3 million unauthorized immigrants then living in America when he signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Watch what happened to the unauthorized immigrant population. By 1990, just four years later, you couldn’t even tell that anything had happened:
“These experiences show the importance of enacting a legalization program only in the context of comprehensive immigration reform designed to reduce future unauthorized inflows as much as possible. Flows increased following IRCA because the amnesty did little to reduce the demand for unauthorized workers […]”
The extreme controversy over the 1986 path to citizenship was like worrying about how to pay today’s $100 debt while ignoring the mounting expenses that will give you a $1,000 debt next year. Leaders truly concerned about America and the people who live here have a responsibility to offer long-term solutions.
We don’t know yet exactly what the Senators and the president propose as a long-term solution. The Senators’ proposal claims that it “will provide businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner when Americans are unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs.” How they do this, and whether or not it truly serves U.S. employers’ needs, will do by far the most to determine whether or not tomorrow’s America is a land of unauthorized immigrants. Orrenius and Zavodny propose a flexible system of auctioned work permits that would be a boon to U.S. enterprise and a big stimulus for the U.S. economy, particularly agriculture (details in their book). CGD’s Lant Pritchett discusses some of the global economic benefits of guest-work arrangements here.
But the exact way of handling future flows is less important than an overall focus on working with American employers. Any immigration reform proposal serious about reducing unauthorized immigration must focus on creating tools for U.S. business, not chains for U.S. business. Past attempts at addressing future flows have been chains instead of tools. Today’s H-2A visa for seasonal agricultural work is a good example. It is so cumbersome and expensive to use that the vast majority of American farmers—who depend critically on migrant labor—refuse to use it. The program doesn’t help farmers get the labor they need, doesn’t help connect them to workers by facilitating recruitment; it exclusively puts up costly barriers for farmers to fight through in order to access legal migrant labor.
If you’re concerned about the phenomenon of unauthorized immigration or the plight of unauthorized immigrants, pay less attention to the path-to-citizenship. Keep one question foremost in your mind as you read the forthcoming details of the Senators’ and president’s proposals: What are they offering U.S. farmers to get the labor they need without going under? What are they offering U.S. parents to get the childcare they need without breaking the bank? These are the provisions that will shape unauthorized immigration for tomorrow’s America.
This op-ed originally appeared in Quartz on January 22, 2013.
In 2008, when I returned from trips abroad at Boston’s Logan International Airport, I was greeted by pictures of the president and the regional director for Homeland Security, Lorraine Henderson, who had the responsibility for the enforcement of immigration law in the northeastern US. In December of 2008, Lorraine Henderson was arrested. Her crime? She employed Fabiana Bitencourt to clean her house. The rub: Fabiana was a Brazilian national who didn’t have authorization to work in the United States. When Fabiana suggested she might return to Brazil for a visit, Lorraine advised that since enforcement was based only on border interdiction, Fabiana ran risks crossing the border but almost no risk in staying put. Lorraine Henderson was charged with “encouraging” and “inducing” an alien to remain in the country illegally.
As we debate an overhaul of America’s immigration laws, this case speaks volumes. We cannot secure the border at the border through interdiction. We can only secure the border inside the border. But that is only possible if we have laws for movement and employment that we, as citizens, are ready to enforce.
In Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, writer Daniel Okrent documents that the fundamental failure of Prohibition was overreach: passing a more draconian law than the American public, its politicians and law enforcement agents, were ultimately willing to enforce. Everyone agreed that the sale of “intoxicating liquors” should be taxed, regulated, and controlled—but an absolute ban went too far. Over time, fewer and fewer citizens were willing to enforce a ban that didn’t allow wine with meals or a beer with a picnic or even a snort of whiskey now and again. Once reality and the law diverged, Americans went back to regulation of alcohol with laws the American public were willing to enforce.
Except for a small but vociferous minority, there is very little appetite among the American public for strict enforcement of existing immigration laws.
Most Americans know there are around 10 million unauthorized workers in the US. Estimates in 2008 showed that 30% of miscellaneous agricultural workers, 28% of dishwashers, 23% of butchers, and 20% of chefs and cooks in America were unauthorized workers—and in major American cities these numbers are much higher. People might be willing to “buy American” or even “buy local” but so far there is no uptake for “buy American by Americans” or “buy locally grown but not foreign-harvested.”
People working hard to make a living is just not something most Americans can work up moral indignation about. People feel more guilty for not separating their recycling than employing unauthorized workers. Just as Americans turned a blind eye to their neighbors drinking “sacramental” wine or a bit of home brew when the law was so out of touch with reality, most Americans today know that mobility across borders is win-win. If someone catches migrants at the border, fine, but enforcement is not their business.
The American public has to demand a law for the way we already live. There are two features to a law Americans would be willing to have enforced:
There has to be large scale path to citizenship for those whose only “crime” is working in America. A 2011 Pew poll shows that almost two-thirds of Americans favor a path to citizenship as part of immigration reform. The alternative—mass deportations of people who have lived and worked among us for years and decades resulting in one of the largest forced migrations in history—is not going to happen because it shouldn’t happen and because it would be deeply un-American.
The law has to provide Americans in the future, both individuals and firms, with reasonable access to foreign workers. This isn’t a debate between existing law and “open borders” but rather between the existing Prohibition-type ban against immigration and regulation of mobility across borders, which most Americans would support. Immigration reform has to include provisions whereby, independent of a path to citizenship, foreign-born workers can—under regulated conditions—meet Americans’ employment needs.
Only once people think the law is fair will enforcement become an option.
Update: On November 30, the House passed HR 6429. It is not expected to be considered by the Senate.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives have proposed a step toward immigration reform. The bill would change who can receive an annual block of 55,000 US permanent resident visas. Currently those visas go to people from countries with relatively low rates of immigration to the US via a lottery system. The new bill would close that program and reallocate the visas toward people earning doctorates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Lamar Smith and his colleagues deserve two cheers for this bill.
The bill recognizes that immigration is critical to the US economy. Right now, just 15% of US permanent resident visas are employment-based. That’s the lowest fraction of any major Western economy, as Pia Orrenius and Madeleine Zavodny have pointed out. Smith’s bill would push that up to 20%. That’s still low, but it’s a start.
The bill includes an overdue change in the treatment of the overseas spouses and children of US permanent residents. When those spouses and children apply for their own resident visas, they currently must wait in line at home, separated from their well-established husband, wife, or parent in the US—sometimes for years. I’ve argued that this requirement can be cruel when the home country has recently experienced a major natural disaster. But it doesn’t make much sense for any country. The new bill will reportedly allow those spouses and children to spend some of that wait-time together, in the US, without changing their place in line. That’s good sense.
Both of these changes are triple wins for migrants, for the US and for the countries they come from. When the U.S. doesn’t admit skilled migrants, many of them don’t stay home and cry, they go to the US’s competitors in the global competition for talent. My research showed that about 30% of high-skill Indian computer programmers denied a work visa to the US ended up in other countries outside India like Canada, Germany, and China. When the US does admit skilled migrants, that can greatly encourage people from developing countries to invest in skill acquisition. My research has shown that this has been a consequence of Australia’s skill-focused immigration system. And Harvard’s Bill Kerr has shown that skilled migrants foster development by channeling new technologies to the countries they come from.
So why do I withhold the third cheer? Because this bill is a zero-sum shift away from lower-skill migrants toward high-skill migrants. (The visas eliminated by this bill, from the ‘Diversity Visa’ lottery, only require a high-school education or equivalent.) This embodies the unexamined assumption that high-skill migrants are “desirable” and admitting them alone is “business-friendly”.
But both low-skill and high-skill migrants are “desirable” to the economy. Most Americans don’t need to look back far in their own families to find an immigrant with very little education. My great-grandfather came from Austria-Hungary with only a few years of schooling, no English, and no money, and became an entrepreneur and land developer. Major American industries, particularly farming and ranching, are heavily dependent on low-skill labor now as they’ve always been. And low-skill workers complement high-skill workers. For example, Patricia Cortés of Boston University has shown that low-skill immigrants make skilled U.S. women more productive by caring for their children, and raise the living standards of most Americans by keeping basic services affordable. The lower-skill migrants who come in through the Diversity Visa lottery also help alleviate poverty back home, as Teferi Mergo of U.C. Berkeley has shown in Ethiopia.
This bill is supposed to be about helping the economy. But there is no strong economic case for a zero-sum shift away from low-skill workers. The U.S. economy needs both high-skill and low-skill immigrants today, as it always has. A three-cheers reform would balance the creation of visas for low-skill and high-skill workers:
A similar bill proposed by Senators Schumer and Coons would create new STEM visas without killing other types of visas. This is a much better path. The benefits of STEM immigrants are clear, but low-skill workers also power the economy.
Orrenius and Zavodny propose a more far-reaching and business-friendly reform: much greater focus on work visas over family visas, a mix of high-skill and low-skill, and an auction system to direct work visas to the companies that will use them most productively.
The global economic benefits of greater economic employment-based migration are vast, much greater than any further liberalization of international trade or investment. But opening up possibilities for STEM workers at the expense of others with fewer skills reduces the potential benefit to the US economy. The best way forward for the economy is creating legal channels for employers of both high-skill and low-skill workers to keep adding value and fueling the recovery.
Not surprisingly, development issues played no role in the recent US presidential election. Perhaps surprisingly, immigration reform is now a major second term agenda. CGD has been promoting migration as not just a domestic but also a development issue for some time, with my Let Their People Come, the Place Premium, new empirical research that shows the massive gains to unskilled labor mobility, the inclusion of migration policy in the Commitment to Development Index and policy work on migration and Haiti. As immigration comes roaring back onto the active US political agenda the discussion should be informed by the developmental consequences (for good or ill) of US decisions about policies towards labor mobility.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register before the election Obama listed his second term priorities: “We need to get immigration reform done, and I’m fully committed to doing that.” More importantly, when asked what he would get done, given the need to cooperate with Republicans who would still control the House, he said:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
The exit polls are clear that arithmetically Obama prediction was exactly right. He owes his victory—and Romney his loss--to overwhelming support from Latino voters. In the national vote totals Romney was 2 percentage points ahead among Non-Latinos. However, Romney lost Latinos, who were 10 percent of the voters, by a 44 percentage point gap (71-27) and hence (in this CNN exit poll) lost overall by 2.6 percentage points.
Group as percent of voters
Shares of vote, by race
Total votes (vote share of racial group times share of voters)
Margin of total votes from group
Latino votes, actual and hypothetical
Hypothetical: Romney gets Bush 2004 Latino vote share
I suspect his prediction about there being a possibility for bipartisan cooperation for immigration reform is also correct, for two reasons.
First, Republicans will now be clearer eyed about demographic destiny. Romney just won the white vote by a 20 percentage point margin. This same spread among whites for Bush over Dukakis in 1988 produced a huge win. In 2012 Romney lost. African American and Latino vote shares will only grow over time. While Latinos have leaned Democrat, they are clearly a swing demographic. Bush in 2004 lost Latinos by only 18 and won. Had Romney lost Latinos by only that margin he would have won the popular vote (in the exit poll data). Getting on the wrong side of a growing demographic, which Republican obstructionism on immigration reform might do, is not good long-run electoral politics.
Second, while elements of the Republican Party are anti-immigration some core Republican constituencies are strongly in favor of greater labor mobility. Farmers in the West and South of the United States rely heavily on immigrant labor and are strongly in favor of programs that allow them more reliable access to workers. More broadly, business interests in the USA recognize the contribution of migrants to a dynamic economy at every level, from attracting entrepreneurial migrants, to high skilled workers, to workers in service and construction industries.
It is not at all hard to envision bipartisan cooperation around comprehensive immigration reform along the lines that has been on (and off) the agenda for years which (a) combines pathways to legalization and/or citizenship for existing undocumented residents, (b) reform of the allocation of visas for permanent migration towards greater emphasis on contribution to the economy, and (c) greater scope for labor mobility to meet needs for workers in specific industries and occupations. There is scope for that reform to be a big win for development as well.
A few weeks ago I attended the Migration and Development Conference, which has emerged in the last few years as the leading forum for cutting-edge economic research in this field.
Going through this year’s program is a great way to get to know latest work in this area. A few of the papers I found especially interesting were these:
De Brauw, Mueller, and Woldehanna document the enormous earnings gains experienced by internal migrants in Ethiopia, by tracking the same people over several years. Those who migrate achieve material welfare about 300% greater than those who do not. This mirrors the findings of a tracking study in Tanzania by Beegle, de Weerdt, and Dercon.
Cortes and Pan document that Filipino nurses in the United States earn substantially greater wages than US-born nurses. This wage premium may be a quality premium. The researchers control for several other traits of the nurses (demographics, education, location, or detailed job characteristics such as setting, shift work or hospital unit), leaving the quality of their work as the possible reason behind the difference in wages.
Bertoli and Fernández-Huertas discuss how one migrant-destination country’s visa policies can have important effects on migrants to other destination countries. They show how ignoring this effect can lead people to underestimate the economic effects of policy restrictions on migration.
This year’s was the fifth annual conference in this young series. Its leading supporters have been the Agence Française de Développement and the World Bank, and this year CGD was a first-time co-sponsor—with generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Some of the key behind-the-scenes drivers of the conference have been Hillel Rapoport, Çaglar Özden, Robert Peccoud, and Thomas Melonio, though many others played key roles. I’ve presented at four of the conferences and served twice on the programming committee, and I’ve been struck by the typically high quality of the research at these conferences compared to some others.
The past years’ programs are packed with some of the very best research in this area (accessible here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). Many of the same researchers also published frontier work on skilled migration in particular last year in a special issue of the Journal of Development Economics. I look forward to the sixth conference next year.