18 thoughts on “Selling the Right to Immigrate to the USA”

  1. Terrible idea. The counterargument would be that this is in effect taxing good behavior by adding a huge barrier to legal immigration. I think his conclusion is totally wrong that this would cut down on illegal immigrants. I think this would drive more people toward illegal immigration particularly people just under the threshold of their desire to legally immigrate. I think the flow of legal immigrants toward illegal immigration would far outstrip the flow of illegal immigrants toward legal immigration. The vast majority of illegal immigrants aren’t schooled in economics or finance. They would see the fee and ask, are you crazy? Those who are moderately educated would balk at the fee. So the only people who benefit are the highly educated/and or rich. I think the only way this could work is if you take the proceeds and massively increase border controls. You have to make it the only option.

  2. People sometimes prize more highly what they have had to expend time or capital on. Nonetheless, it has been my experience that those who prize their citizenship in this country (and admire its tradition) are not necessarily those who came here with money and to professional positions.

    The remarkable stories of the families of many of my children’s friends – families who speak their native tongue at home amd whose parents do not have professional positions but who do bear down o those children as they study and send them off to the Ivy League – are heartening. Sure, eventually such families could raise money for citizenship.

    I’m just not sure that it would attract the same kind of people that have always washed up on our shores, the people who are ambitious and hard working. Indeed, I fear it might encourage the very people Franklin long ago warned away from immigration.

  3. It is a question of perspective. There is a lot of value to American citizenship/residence. If we don’t charge for it, we are giving it to the immigrant for free and they reap a substantial windfall. A comparable situation is licenses to broadcast frequencies given for free to those with political power and connections. The public gets nothing for the use of its frequencies. If you favor auctioning frequencies the burden is on you to establish why citizenship/residency should not be auctioned.

    Ginny has given it a start, but I’m not convinced that she has made a case formore than exceptions to the rule. I doubt such an auction would attract a substantially different group of people than have come here in the past for exactly the reason that if you are the wrong sort, you don’t want to be here in the first place.

  4. But there’s been plenty of the right sort who couldn’t raise the requisite fee anywhere except within the United States.

    I’d turn that around. Let just about anyone in, but don’t give immigrants any free welfare benefits. The only exceptions I’d make are these, and only so long as similar benefits are available to natives: if they need medical treatment and can’t pay for it, they’re given the treatment and then deported. And maybe we’d let their kids in public schools.

    That should attract the right sort, and enable them to come to a place where they can actually rise up in the world.

  5. Becker premises his argument on the existence of big govt here and of various govt-distributed benefit schemes that create incentives to immigrate. He makes clear that he would prefer open immigration if govt were small.

  6. Surely we don’t have to abolish the welfare state to establish that we have no obligation to extend welfare benefits to everyone that shows up from anywhere on Earth to collect, do we?

    I mean, even if we (gasp!) discriminate against non-citizens in the provision of welfare services, we should reflect that people who would actually starve without such benefits would be unlikely to show up in the first place if no such benefits were available to them. Or are we so far gone that we can’t even bring ourselves to realize that poor immigrants are free to go elsewhere if our society isn’t compassionate enough for their tastes…

  7. I’m completely puzzled by his post. He appears to believe there’s a true value to the right to immigrate. Or that the government should set a price. Aren’t those odd beliefs for a free-trader?

  8. Ken,

    You’re not from California, are you? If they’re here, legally or otherwise, they get the service, especially The Children. You can’t discriminate. A major reason cost of education and medical care is so high and quality so low in the Golden State.

    I also am unaware of a right to immigrate.

  9. Your local public school, library, parks and recreation department, DMV or emergency room. Habla Espanol?

  10. But we do already charge new immigrants… it’s called taxes. In a 1997 study by the National Research Council or the National Academy of sciences, they found that the average immigrant with less than a high school education costs the US system $89,000 over their lifetime and the average immigrant with only a high school education costs the system $31,000 over their lifetime. But, the average immigrant with more than a high school education has a positive financial impact of $105,000. Now, you may be thinking that the less educated, expensive immigrants vastly outweigh those immigrants who provide a surplus. But when they combined all categories, the NRC found that the lifetime impact for the average immigrant was only a negative $3,000. And I’d like to point out that both illegal and legal immigrants are included in these numbers.

    Negative $3,000 is still a bummer (though nothing close to the $50,000 that Becker used in his post.) But I’d like to refer back to Ginny’s observation of many of her kid’s friends who are 2nd generation. Ginny mentioned that although their parents are not professionals, these individuals will be going to ivy league schools. Now, I’m not trying to say that this anecdote is what happens in every case. But certainly if immigrants are able to raise their kids in a good, stable, healthy environment their kids will contribute far more to the system than $3,000. Seems like a good invenstment.

  11. I meant to say “National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences” in my 1st line above. (Sorry — Gotta start typing my comments in Word and pasting. My typos are out of control.)

  12. In essence, we already allow foreigners to “buy” permanent residency by investing $1,000,000 in a new job-creating enterprise. The $50,000 threshold Becker starts with is far too low.
    What about expanding the H1-B program? We could make the brain drain an explicit policy with a “try before you buy” mechanism, maybe counting time on that status toward the naturalization period. The IT people I’ve met from India, China, and Russia are excellent. We would benefit ourselves by recruiting motivated, skilled, educated people from wherever we find them. Hasn’t Microsoft had a similar policy? They’re not doing too badly.

  13. Mitch, the problem with H1-B is that it makes the worker hostage to the employer. But if what you’re talking about is a way for H1-B employees to buy their way out of the program and onto a permanent-residency or citizenship track, then I think your point is a good one. But if we’re going to go that route I think we should also allow non-H1-Bs to buy their way in. I don’t think there’s any reason to tie immigration to existing jobs. Immigrants often create jobs.

  14. Sorry, Jonathan, I should have been clearer. The degree to which H1-B holders are bound to their employers is scandalous. I’m just thinking that we already have this in place, and it’s often easier and more reliable to tweak something existing than to conceive and realize a new thing. My underlying point is that immigration policies, given that more people want in than we can accept, should be structured for the benefit of those already here. Bringing in people with education and a good work ethic — net contributors — is one way of doing that.

  15. –But if what you’re talking about is a way for H1-B employees to buy their way out of the program and onto a permanent-residency or citizenship track,—

    Sounds like indentured servitude.

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