Please don’t confuse this with the blog post open borders advocates and private charity, which is about a criticism of hypocrisy leveled against open borders advocates.
Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World. What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck? Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?
Unconventional answers are welcome as long as they’re genuinely effective. Please show your work.
I have been considering this question for a while. On October 27, 2012, I had a Skype conversation with Holden Karnofsky of charity evaluator GiveWell where we discussed related ideas. GiveWell decided not to publish the conversation, as it was too preliminary and tentative, so I won’t go into the details of what was discussed; GiveWell does publish better-quality conversations on its conversations page. More recently (December 7, 2012), Shaun Raviv, blogging for effective giving advocate-cum-charity evaluator Giving What We Can, expressed interest in migration as a way of helping the poor, with the first in a planned series of blog posts published about three weeks ago.
In this blog post, I will discuss various ways to increase migration and/or move towards open borders, drawing heavily on the comment responses to Caplan’s bleg.
Possible different goals people could have in mind
I want to begin with the same caution that I expressed in my own comment on Caplan’s bleg:
I think you need to be a bit more specific on what the goal is. Is the goal to simply increase the quantity of migration from people living in Third World countries, or do you wish to focus on poor people in these countries? Would a reasonably well-to-do graduate student in computer science who wants a job in the IT sector qualify for your concern? Are you okay with guest worker programs that have a return date stamped on them, or do you insist on immigration with no such return restrictions?
How you rank and rate the various ideas presented below, and which ones you consider worthy of further investigation, depends a lot on whether your goal is to increase migration numbers, whether you care about world GDP, whether you place more weight on the same numerical GDP gain concentrated on poorer people, and many other deep questions of ethics. This is one reason I’m not going to try the daunting task of ranking the many options presented.
For the rest of this blog post, I’ll use the term “immigration” to refer to both immigration and temporary movement for students and guest workers, even though that is not technically correct.
Also, just to be clear, I do not necessarily endorse all the ideas here. An evaluation of the pros and cons (moral as well as strategic) of each idea here would make this post far too long. I will discuss the more interesting ideas among these in more detail in subsequent posts, and will be happy to share my views on specific ideas in the comments if you have questions.
Options for increasing immigration without changing or breaking immigration laws
The simplest, most immediate, and least risky (in terms of avoiding trouble with the law) proposition is to attempt to increase legal (authorized) immigration within the existing framework of laws. There are many different visa categories, some of which have strict quantity limits with the limits almost always met. Other visa categories have unfilled quotas on a regular basis, and/or have no quotas. Increasing immigration in the categories that have unfilled quotas or no quantity caps is probably the more fruitful option. Some countries do not have quantity restrictions (or are very far from exhausting the quantity restrictions) but have specific points systems that require specific skills (e.g., Canada). Working to help prospective immigrants acquire these skills might be another path. Anyway, here’s the list of suggestions on Caplan’s bleg that fall in this category:
- Marriage: Most countries offer essentially unrestricted immigration for the spouses of current citizens, wherever in the world these spouses reside. Encouraging more marriages between Americans (or people in the desired target country of migration) and foreigners might therefore be one method. Two proposals in this regard were made on Caplan’s bleg. daubery:
For the US specifically, look for people willing to marry foreigners. This is the only immigration route that doesn’t have a hard cap. This could even be profit-making if they agreed under the table to kick back some of their increased earnings. You may need to base your matchmaking service off-shore so as not to have the list of clients fall into the hands of the US immigration force, however.
Here’s Joe Cushing’s response to daubery:
There is no way on earth, I’d give a woman, whom I don’t know, the power of the state to use against me by marrying me. Although I suppose an immigrant woman would have a bit less power but divorces don’t go well for men, usually. The state sides with the woman. Even if I got to know these women for a few months, you could never trust the state not to screw you over in the end somehow. The state has really inserted itself into our relationships in an unhealthy way and this is true, even for domestic to domestic relationships. It effects divorce rates, divorce outcomes, and the power structure effects otherwise healthy relationships. Whenever women complain about men fearing commitment; I like to tell them that men don’t fear commitment, men fear the state. A marriage to a man is a completely different risk than it is to a woman. This is why woman can’t understand how we feel.
With all of this to consider, You should focus on American women who would be willing to marry foreign men. The foreign men would be willing to take the risk. Then again, domestic men would be willing to take the risk to find more attractive women than they could find here. That’s why we have these mail order bride services already.
What about funding an agency which promotes speed-dating between third-world and first-world citizens?
As for the ethics of this, I think there is little that is more ethical than to help people circumvent evil laws.
- Adoption: Although the adoption of foreign infants does suffer from some bureaucratic constraints, this does seem to be a category that does not suffer from numerical restrictions of the kind that other visas do. Adoption is also a solution that even restrictionists (such as Mark Krikorian of CIS) would tend not to oppose, because their chief concern — that immigrants arrive already steeped in a different culture — does not apply to people who are adopted into the country they’re immigrating to at birth or when very young, and who are raised by people who are already steeped in the culture. Nonetheless, there are various obstacles arising from international realpolitik. Here’s a post by Dan Carroll (adoptive father of a kid from Ethiopia), critical of various restrictions on adoption (HT: Bryan Caplan, as usual).
- Education and specific skills training (including language training) to help more immigrants meet the qualifications to immigrate: Lots of suggestions of this sort on Caplan’s bleg. Neal:
Might not maximize bang/$, but here we go:
Educational charities (incl universities themselves) who fund people from poor countries to study in rich countries – especially PhDs. They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.
For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?
oneeyedman (excerpt of comment, not the full comment):
There are probably different answers for different budgets. I suspect that teaching French to African English speaking college students so they can use the Canadian point based immigration system would do it. You could fund French clubs inexpensively and partner with local schools and or professors.
Motoko responds to oneeyedman:
“They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.”
I’m in an engineering PhD program. The majority of students are foreign. The problem with hiring foreigners for high-caliber work is that they’re culturally and socially illiterate. Maybe 10% of them can overcome this hurdle and get hired in the US.
But those that can’t… well… they just go back to their home country. They don’t earn half of what they’d earn in the U.S., but they are no longer so poor that they need our help.
“For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?”
Good point. We shouldn’t just try to get more people in the States. Generally, we should try to get the needy into better countries that are easy to immigrate to.
A more cynical approach (that is not suggested by anybody on Caplan’s bleg) is to help foster the creation and expansion of visa mills, which are analogous to diploma mills. While diploma mills offer fake higher education degrees for their credential value to all comers, visa mills offer fake higher education degrees to foreigners to help them get fraudulent student visas. These foreigners can take up small jobs while in the US while allegedly studying, save money, and then either get a permanent job or go home with some saved money. The probable reason is that such visa mills, aside from the ethical issues, are likely to get caught and put in trouble all people who went through the visa mill. Here’s a piece from the CIS critical of visa mills and diploma mills.
- Better matching of employees with employers: There are some types of employer-sponsored visas for which the quotas are not completely filled, and for these, organizations that better help match employers and employees could be useful. This is particularly the case for relatively “unskilled” jobs, where employers and employees are less likely to already be connected through educational and Internet-based networks. An example is CITA (Independent Agricultural Workers Center) which matches farm owners in the US with people in other countries interested in temporary farm work in the US. The temporary worker can then get a H2 visa authorization to work at the farm. They hope to eventually be self-sustaining, but are currently structured as a non-profit and initially funded by donations. Michael Clemens blogged about CITA here. For related content, see our page on migrant labor in the US agricultural sector. There are probably similar opportunities for other countries and other worker types that help reduce the frictional costs of matching employers with employees across huge geographical distances.
- Other creative workarounds: A few of these are listed at the migration arbitrage business opportunities page.
Making small changes or tweaks to the laws governing legal immigration
Another possible direction is to increase the quotas for legal immigration in various categories, or reduce the qualifications and requirements for those categories, or make other changes that facilitate increased levels of legal migration. I’m talking of small “tweaks” here that operate within the margins of public indifference, for which there is neither much public enthusiasm nor much public resistance. The startup visa might be an example. Effecting such a change, however, does not seem to be an easy task, at least in the US context, because any change in the immigration regime, however slight, is typically held up by demands for “comprehensive immigration reform” where the definition of “comprehensive” varies from person to person, and where the different sides of the debate often have diametrically opposite conceptions of reform.
Another possible area where policy might be more responsive to special interest lobbying while moving along the margin of public indifference is asylum advocacy. I suspect that in most places, the public’s hostility to immigration and their desire to be seen as friendly to asylum-seekers largely cancel each other out, meaning that there is considerable slack for policy. Here’s Mike Linsvayer making the case for asylum advocacy:
Asylum advocacy organizations.
I have no real work to show, but my rationalization:
- There may be more flexibility in “the system” overall, such that advocacy for individual refugees and other at-risk persons, and groups of same, might increase total immigration to wealthy jurisdictions.
- Excluding people whose risk is acute puts movement/residence/work restrictions in the worst light possible, assuming no systemic change in discourse from “immigration” to “apartheid”.
- Further to both of the above points, there is vast ground to shame the US and other Iraq/Afghanistan invader/occupiers for excluding people put at-risk by those campaigns, starting with all collaborators.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never investigated asylum advocacy organizations, but I will give to at least one before the end of the year.
The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project appears to be one with a small budget, coordinating lots of pro-bono work. http://www.urbanjustice.org/ujc/projects/refugee.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Refugee_aid_organizations is someplace to start looking for others.
john wahba has a clever if offbeat suggestion:
Fund journalists in third world dictatorships who are on the brink of having an asylum case developed against them.
In contrast, Simon C takes the view that lobbying for increases to work visas and student visas (the boring old categories!) might be the right way to go:
Contra some of the other comments, I imagine the most efficient use of money might be to hire someone to subtly lobby for increases in work and student visa issuance. There is no concentrated lobby against this so a small amount might go a long way. Admittedly there is popular opposition, but if the change was made quietly, gradually increasing visa numbers rather than any sudden legal change perhaps it could happen without raising much notice. As to being unethical, I can’t really think of a more ethical act than doing this.
Human smuggling/active facilitation of illegal (unauthorized) immigration
Clearly, violating immigration laws is “illegal” in the legislative sense. But is it “illegal” in the sense of the common law, as people intuitively understand it? Is it unethical to violate or facilitate the violation of immigration laws? These are hard questions and this is not the place to discuss them, though you can browse our past blog posts on the subject to get a variety of perspectives on the issue. Some of the proposals here will doubtless strike readers as unethical, but as noted earlier in this post, the goal of this post is to simply describe all the options, not to evaluate the morality of individual options.
oneeyedman offers a subtle suggestion:
For very small budgets how about providing steady work at a slightly above market wage to an undocumented worker on the theory that this would increase illegal immigration.
Incidentally, this is consistent with Robin Hanson’s ideal of marginal charity, though Hanson’s post was made a day after oneeyedman’s comment.
Hire a Coyote. The cost of smuggling illegal aliens into the country may be high for the immigrants but they are fairly low for Americans. If its true that the best thing you can do for 3rd worlders is move them to the first world then this is obviously the fastest and cheapest way. I think it costs only a few thousand dollars and you boost that person’s income and their children’s incomes permanently (provided they are not caught). Plus it would appear that more illegals increases the political pressure on liberalizing immigration law.
Keith Webb tweaks Blake Watson’s proposal:
To provide a slight alternative to Blake Watson’s proposal, give money to someone trying to save enough to smuggle relatives or friends into the country.
Or one could make an effort to use more immigrant labor. At least some of the money paid in wages would go to getting more people here, and at the margin, boost wages for immigrant labor therefore convincing more people to try to enter the US.
Simon C recommends document forgery, if feasible:
Another cheap way might be the production of a large amount of fake documentation. Modern technology may prevent this being effective though and it would be considered a crime. We can remember though that people who rescued the victims of the Nazis using false documentation are now considered heroes. Why could it not be the same for rescuing someone from Libya, Zimbabwe or North Korea?
Human smuggling is a contentious topic. The secrecy of this large-scale enterprise makes possible a lot of abuse and mishaps. The Freeman recently had a cover story on the perils of human smuggling and how this pointed to a need to have freer immigration. Donating to human smuggling might therefore be morally problematic for many, even those who support the goal of open borders.
My co-blogger Nathan Smith, in his book Principles of a Free Society (Amazon ebook) (the immigration chapter can be downloaded as a Word Document or as a PDF), suggested a much more ambitious form of large-scale human smuggling: smuggling humans in shipping containers. His proposal was mostly as a backup plan in case the First World decided to seal its borders in a complete and tamper-proof manner, but some might want to take it seriously. Here’s Nathan:
Shipping containers might be one means of transport for the next wave of illegal immigrants if a border fence turned out to be effective. There are already cases of people getting into the U.S. by shipping container. Several million cargo containers arrive in the United States each year. A standard shipping container is 40 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, and may spend 3-4 weeks at sea en route from China to the United States. It is typically not opened for inspection in either the port of departure or the port of arrival, but is lifted by a crane onto a truck and delivered to a final customer. To inspect every incoming shipping container would raise prices on all kinds of imports and be crippling for the US economy. The cost of shipping one container from China to the US is around $5,000.
Not many people resort to immigration by shipping container now, of course. But for a person who is willing to live in a shipping container for a little over a month, this might be the next best way to get into the United States, if the Mexican border is effectively closed. The biggest problems are feces and the lack of fresh air, but technology might find solutions to those problems if there was enough demand for them. Anyway, would you spend four weeks in a stinking shipping container to raise your lifetime earnings by one or two million dollars? I would. But it would take a certain human infrastructure—front companies, internet forums—to help people come into the United States by shipping container on a large scale. A border fence and an amnesty for the illegal immigrants still here might be just the thing to trigger the emergence of this industry.
Changing the de facto and de jure treatment of unauthorized immigrants after they’ve crossed the border
This could include lobbying for DREAM Act-like legislation, and other forms of amnesty, which may or may not include a path to citizenship, but reject deportation for the majority of unauthorized immigrants. The direct effect of this is that more of the current unauthorized immigrant population gets to stay. More important, from the perspective of Caplan’s bleg question, is the indirect effect: it reduces the deterrent effect on future prospective unauthorized immigrants, and thus increases the net payoff of unauthorized immigration (either through crossing borders without authorization or overstaying a visa). This increased net payoff would probably lead to more immigration. There is another indirect effect to be considered if some of these immigrants are offered citizenship: they may be able to sponsor relatives to migrate.
While major changes in this regard would require major changes to public opinion (at least in democracies), minor changes like the DREAM Act operate within the margins of public indifference, and are susceptible to framing effects and the charisma of individual leaders.
Sidenote: joining an immigration enforcement job, then breaking the law
Many open borders advocates have suggested that it is morally good to violate restrictive immigration laws, and it may be morally wrong to do more than the bare minimum in trying to enforce them. Thus, for instance, if you have a job in enforcing immigration laws, it may be morally desirable, or perhaps even morally necessary, to do your best to look the other way as people break these laws, rather than do your job as per its actual job description. This idea is controversial. If you disagree with the morality of immigration enforcement, does that morally justify taking up a job whose contractual responsibility involves that enforcement, then not doing that job as contractually specified? This might strike even some open borders advocates as wrong. The moot point here is: just how immoral are these laws? Is the immorality sufficient to justify the prima facie unethical act of taking up a job and violating the terms of its contract? These are difficult questions. If, however, you think that such actions are morally justified, then this might well be a powerful way of increasing the number of people who immigrate: take up a job at the appropriate point in immigration enforcement with the most discretionary power, then quietly undermine the enforcement of these laws. The position may be at the consular officer level, or at the border security level, or at the level of discretionary checking of immigration status of people in the target country (where you are responsible for identifying and deporting potential illegal immigrants).
Sugihara is said to have cooperated with Polish intelligence, as part of a bigger Japanese-Polish cooperative plan. As the Soviet Union occupied sovereign Lithuania in 1940, many Jewish refugees from Poland (Polish Jews) as well as Lithuanian Jews tried to acquire exit visas. Without the visas it was dangerous to travel, yet it was impossible to find countries willing to issue them. Hundreds of refugees came to the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, trying to get a visa to Japan. The Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk had provided some of them with an official third destination to Curaçao, a Caribbean island and Dutch colony that required no entry visa, or Surinam (which, upon independence in 1975, became Suriname). At the time, the Japanese government required that visas be issued only to those who had gone through appropriate immigration procedures and had enough funds. Most of the refugees did not fulfill these criteria. Sugihara dutifully contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry three times for instructions. Each time, the Ministry responded that anybody granted a visa should have a visa to a third destination to exit Japan, with no exceptions.
From 18 July to 28 August 1940, aware that applicants were in danger if they stayed behind, Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative, after consulting with his family. He ignored the requirements and issued the Jews with a ten-day visa to transit through Japan, in direct violation of his orders. Given his inferior post and the culture of the Japanese Foreign Service bureaucracy, this was an extraordinary act of disobedience. He spoke to Soviet officials who agreed to let the Jews travel through the country via the Trans-Siberian Railway at five times the standard ticket price.
Sugihara continued to hand write visas, reportedly spending 18–20 hours a day on them, producing a normal month’s worth of visas each day, until 4 September, when he had to leave his post before the consulate was closed. By that time he had granted thousands of visas to Jews, many of whom were heads of households and thus permitted to take their families with them. On the night before their scheduled departure, Sugihara and his wife stayed awake writing out visa approvals. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit from his hotel and after boarding the train at the Kaunas Railway Station, throwing visas into the crowd of desperate refugees out of the train’s window even as the train pulled out.
Clearly, the situation that Sugihara dealt with was in many ways unusual, and the cross-applicability of his actions to the modern context is questionable. But this does demonstrate at least one instance where derelection of contractual responsibility may have had a huge human benefit.
Funding advocacy groups and research centers for the short, medium, and long term
In the short- to medium-term, advocacy groups and think tanks play an important role in shaping the thoughts of people in government at all levels, who often lack the resources and energy to conduct their own in-depth investigations and/or reflect on the issues a lot. In the second post of his series on how to achieve open borders, Fabio Rojas highlighted the role of intellectuals and others who influence specific segments of the public and decision-making bodies. In addition to explicitly pro-immigration groups, it may be a good idea to also fund more research-oriented centers and institutes, as long as these are not explicitly anti-migration (i.e., groups like CIS are not included here). Even though these centers may not be involved in advocacy, their work can be used effectively by advocacy groups. It’s also true that any research can also be used by anti-immigration advocacy groups, but if your general view is that the “truth” is more on the pro-migration side, and the empirics are more likely to support the assertions on the pro-migration side, then the balance would be more favorable to migration advocacy. Research centers and institutes that have a reputation for neutrality and even-handedness might also have more credibility, and donations to them (provided these do not come with any “strings attached” that would damage this credibility) might be better than funding some advocacy groups.
Unfortunately, most advocacy groups that deal with immigration-related issues tend to focus on specific ethnicities and also are often focused on immigrant rights issues more than they are on increasing the number of people allowed to immigrate. It may still be the case that the issues they advocate for have the indirect effect of increasing the number of people who immigrate (for instance, a push for a path to citizenship for immigrants might mean more immigration for relatives sponsored by them) and this needs to be estimated/calculated to get an idea of the effectiveness of these organizations. However, few of them are fans of anything approaching open borders, and they may even be opposed to open borders with keyhole solutions, or open borders for ethnicities or skill groups other than the ones they are concerned about. Thus, one also needs to worry about whether their lobbying will expand the total number of migrants, or simply lead to one set of migrants displacing another. I discussed the distinction between immigrant rights advocates and open borders advocates in an earlier blog post.
The organizations that do in fact advocate clearly and forcefully for open borders or something close to open borders tend to not have it as their main focus. Within these, there are two major groups: those focused on international development and poverty alleviation, and those with a libertarianish perspective. In none of the top organizations in either category is it possible to earmark funds specifically for their open borders advocacy, and even if it were, this may be more of an accounting trick. This means that a person who does not share broader libertarian goals would be obviously reluctant to donate to a libertarian organization (such as Cato or the Future of Freedom Foundation or the Independent Institute) for the small fraction of the donation that would go to open borders advocacy. Similarly, even people who are great fans of the Center for Global Development‘s initiatives on migration (such as this and this) may be reluctant to donate to the group if they don’t think that the CGD’s other activities are worthwhile.
The International Organization for Migration is one organization with a worldwide focus and an explicit role for advocacy that I haven’t had the opportunity to examine closely. They’re quite explicit in some of their pro-migration advocacy, but I don’t think their focus is all that close to open borders. I hope to consider their activities in more detail in a subsequent post.
Research centers and institutes that do not engage in advocacy, but rather focus on data collection and background research, may be better bets for the long term. Examples are the Migration Policy Institute (in particular, its and various university-affiliated centers such as the International Migration Institute (Oxford) (a full list is at the pro-immigration and migration information web resources page). Unfortunately, a lot of the activities of these research centers have very limited use for open borders advocacy. There is one particular activity that I think holds more potential than most: data gathering about immigration policies and laws (such as IMPALA — a full list is at the pro-immigration and migration information web resources page). Nathan hinted at this in a blog post a while back titled If I Had a Million Dollars…
But since this post is already getting long, and an evaluation of data-gathering initiatives is a tricky business, I’ll defer a discussion of the possibilities here for later.
PS: I didn’t quite know where to fit this in the post, but David Barry’s comment on Caplan’s bleg is pertinent:
GiveWell posted a (very preliminary) conversation with David McKenzie on this topic recently here (Word doc).
There weren’t really any definitive take-aways, but apparently there are countries which don’t currently reach their government’s immigration limits. Migration is politically sensitive, so most large NGO’s stay a long way away from the area, and this probably leaves a large gap that donors or philanthropists could fill.
But there was no recommendation of a particular charity to donate to, they just said that some particular institutes of migration would know more about organisations that directly facilitate migration from developing to developed countries.
Here’s the migration section of the GiveWell conversation that Barry linked to:
Organizations that facilitate international migration
There are organizations that pair workers in poor countries with employers in rich countries so that the workers in poor countries can temporarily move to the rich countries to earn much higher wages.
Most current such organizations are either for-profit, international organizations (e.g. the IOM), or very small organizations that have a localized presence. There don’t seem to be large organizations working on this that could absorb a large amount of funding from donors.
A neglected cause
Migration is a politically sensitive issue because migrants can displace local workers in rich countries. For this reason, development banks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) avoid working on programs to promote migration. Thus, there may be a very large arbitrage opportunity for philanthropists to facilitate migration.
Because of governmental quotas, programs that facilitate migration may do so at the cost of barring other workers from migration. However, in some countries like Australia and some bilateral arrangements that certain European countries have, the government quotas are far from being met and so efforts to facilitate migration can result in more opportunities for migrant workers as a group.
Organizations for GiveWell to talk to about opportunities for facilitation
GiveWell can talk to Manjula Luthria at the Marseilles Center for European Integration, the International Office for Migration (IOM) and the Georgetown Migration Institute for more information on opportunities for facilitating more migration to countries with unmet quotas and the non-profit organizations that work on this.
Room for more studies
There have been many studies on the impact of migration programs on the migrants and their families. There is a paucity of research on which interventions and policies work well for facilitating migration and make it work best for the migrants.
National versus international migration
The financial benefits to migrants from moving from a poor country to a rich country are often an order of magnitude larger than the benefits to migrants of moving from a rural area in a poor country to an urban area in the same country.