Economics of Immigration

However strong the moral and humanitarian case for immigration is, people across the western world seem to be deeply divided on the issue primarily because of the perceived negative impact of immigration on their current living standards. In the US this is evident from the political rhetoric surrounding current Presidential race and in the UK in relation to the question of staying or exiting from the EU (Brexit). I think a couple of recent papers on these issues could throw some more meat at the debate and strengthen the public discourse.

Linsensova and Sancez-Martinez (2016) talk about the long term impacts of lower migration to UK. Here is a summary of their findings.

This paper looks at the possible scenarios of migration policy should the UK leave the EU. The paper uses an OLG model which brings together labour market, fiscal and other macroeconomic effects in one framework. It also adds a dynamic perspective, differentiates between natives and different categories of immigrants and captures age and qualification compositional effects. The paper compares the two migration scenarios: Leave and Remain. By 2065, in the Leave scenario, aggregate GDP and GDP per person are 9% and 1% respectively lower compared to Remain scenario. Reduced migration after leaving the EU has a negative impact on the public finances, because of higher dependency ratio. This requires an increase in taxation of about £400 per person (2014 pounds) in 2065. The results are sensitive to the assumptions that change productivity of the labour force and dependency ratio.

A paper presented at the 2016 ASSA meetings by Jeffrey Sachs talks about the need for an international migration regime. It has some interesting suggestions for research that would help develop a clearer perspective on what such regime should look like.  Reading this paper also reminded me of an interesting paper by Jess Benhabib titled, “Optimal Migration: A World Perspective“. Here is what the paper has to say about the level of migration that would maximize world welfare.

We ask what level of migration would maximize world welfare. Welfare is assumed to be a weighted average of the utilities of the world’s various citizens, but the weights are also country specific. Using a calibrated one-sector model, we find that unless the weights are heavily biased toward the natives of rich countries, the extent of migration that would be optimal far exceeds the levels observed today. The claim remains true in a two-sector extension of the model. All versions of the model assume that migration is the only redistributive tool.

In general, it looks like if we just think narrowly about the impact of immigration on a particular country or a geographical area, the answer may or may not be convincing. But if we think about the issue in terms of the welfare of the world economy, there seems to be a sufficiently strong argument for moving people from the developing countries to the developed ones. The main problem is that the costs and benefits of migration are not only economic in nature. There are significant non-economic adjustment costs as people belonging to different cultural and social backgrounds come together. Also, there is a significant time dimension to all the costs and benefits with costs somehow perceived to be more pronounced in the short run and benefits spread over the long run. Unfortunately, the political debate on both sides of the Atlantic has been feeding off the fear that is primarily based on short term costs like rising unemployment which is often more localized and sector specific than being pervasive. The rising religious fundamentalism across the globe has only fueled this fear suggesting that the case for making academic discourse more accessible to general public has never been stronger!

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Filed under current economic issues, economics research, immigration

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