Tag Archives: economics

What international evidence exists for adverse impacts from illegal immigration or amnesties for immigrants?

In the US, California is every restrictionist’s (and fair-minded skeptic’s) example of how badly things can go wrong if you mismanage immigration policy. I have not yet seen someone cite country-level evidence of poor immigration policy’s impacts: given that Italy and Spain have given multiple amnesties to unauthorised immigrants over the last 3 decades, and the current state of their economies, this seems surprising. Does anyone know of a comprehensive analysis that looks at jurisdictions outside the US?

To be clear, I often see specific references to how life in California is now terrible because of illegal immigration. Commonly-cited examples are the problem of the state government’s debt, a dysfunctional state government, soaring crime rates, deteriorating levels of social trust, a collapsing public school system, the high level of unemployment…I could continue on. I often see references made to California as the ultimate end-state for any jurisdiction that permits a large amount of illegal immigration, and would like to understand if this conclusion has been validated or supported by analyses that look at other jurisdictions with large amounts of illegal immigration. A previous post considered this question in the context of comparisons between the US states, but for this post, I’m interested in international comparisons.

I’m fine with somewhat unsophisticated stabs at this analysis: breadth can be just as important as depth, and given the rather poor state of knowledge about the ultimate impacts of high levels of immigration, any research or analysis can prove valuable. My understanding is that France and Germany both have ongoing processes for unauthorised immigrants to regularise their status, and considering the widespread use of discrete amnesties in other European countries’ immigration policies, it would be interesting to see if there are any different impacts, and what people’s thoughts are on the impact of either option has been relative to a counterfactual where these European countries did not regularise any unauthorised immigrants whatsoever.

The US has only implemented one amnesty of note, in 1986. In Europe, amnesties are much more common. Poland for example announced in 2011 its third amnesty since 2003 (though to be fair, Poland has much fewer unauthorised immigrants than the US). Surely there has been some study of the impacts of these amnesties, or even some informal comparison that correlates the number of unauthorised immigrants to various socioeconomic indicators at the country level. And I’m only really somewhat aware of amnesty policies in Europe: I’m not even sure what arrangements, if any, exist in other continents.

And going beyond amnesty, large numbers of unauthorised immigrants exist in various countries. The number of unauthorised immigrants could similarly be correlated to various indicators, as informal analyses in the US often do with California. If we rank countries by the percentage of their population that is present without legal authorisation, how would that compare to the ranking of countries by GDP per capita, or public debt per capita, or rankings in international educational aptitude surveys like PISA or TIMMS? What about ranking countries by the number of previously unauthorised immigrants whose legal status has since been regularised? Here are two charts (from link #3 at the end of this post) which rank EU countries:

EU-27 regularizations through programsEU-27 regularizations through mechanisms

A quick glance suggests that some of the worse-performing Eurozone economies have been much likelier to offer larger-scale regularisations. However I’m not sure what to make of Germany and France coming in right behind four of the PIIGS on this scale, or of Germany and France topping the list when it comes to mechanism-based (i.e. ongoing) regularisations. Moreover within the PIIGS it also seems quite clear that Italy and Spain are performing better than Greece (I am not sure where Portugal stands). So the correlation, if there is one, does not appear to be that strong.

(Something else that may be food for thought: according to the source for these charts, France once insisted that the EU adopt a continent-wide ban on mass regularisations of the “amnesty” type currently being discussed in the US. This idea was dropped because Spain vetoed it. It would be fascinating to learn what’s driving the different approaches here.)

If anyone knows of material that might be pertinent to the issues I’ve raised here, I would love to hear about it in the comments of this post. We can compile a compendium and document it on an Open Borders page about illegal immigration, and/or the regularisation of unauthorised immigrants. This compendium would be a useful reference for future discussions and blog posts on this site.

I’ll start by listing out some documents I’ve been able to find, and will add to this list as people post in the comments:

  1. Why Countries Continue to Consider Regularization, Amanda Levinson (2005) — a good summary of how different countries approach regularisation/amnesty, and where volumes stood as of 2005
  2. Regularisation programmes in France, Amanda Levinson (2005) — a good summary of the French approach, but no contextualisation with respect to how it compares to elsewhere
  3. Regularizations in the European Union, Kate Brick (2011) — probably comes closest to what I’ve been looking for, has excellent comparisons of different countries’ approaches to regularisation

Comparing US states by their unauthorised immigrant population

California is a common rhetorical example used to illustrate the harms of immigration (unauthorised or otherwise) in the US. People point to California’s runaway government debt, poor public school system, and rising rates of social disorder/crime as the inevitable consequences of more liberal immigration policies. I thought it might be worth pulling together a 50-state view (plus the District of Columbia) to see what we can generalise from a ranking of jurisdictions by their unauthorised immigrant populations.

The Pew Research Center has provided some estimates of the unauthorised immigrant population by state in 1990 and 2010 (see tables A3 and A4), and I combined these with US Census Data of the population by state to calculate the share of unauthorised immigrants in each state’s population in 1990 and 2010. It was then a simple step to calculate how much the unauthorised immigrant population has grown or shrunk over the intervening 2 decades.

In 1990, these were the top 10 states (and DC) by share of unauthorised immigrants in their population:

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Arizona
  5. Nevada
  6. New York
  7. Florida
  8. Illinois
  9. New Mexico
  10. New Jersey

In 1990 the bottom 10 were:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Missouri
  4. Mississippi
  5. Indiana
  6. Iowa
  7. South Carolina
  8. Kentucky
  9. Alabama
  10. Ohio

And as of 2010, here are the top 10 states by share of population:

  1. Nevada
  2. California
  3. Texas
  4. New Jersey
  5. Arizona
  6. Maryland
  7. District of Columbia
  8. Florida
  9. Georgia
  10. New Mexico

The bottom 10 are:

  1. South Carolina
  2. Alaska
  3. South Dakota
  4. Missouri
  5. Ohio
  6. Vermont
  7. North Dakota
  8. Montana
  9. Maine
  10. West Virginia

While I’m not sure what life in these United States was like in 1990, I do know that in 2010 I would much prefer to live in any of the top 10 states ranked by the proportion of unauthorised immigrants in their population than I would prefer to live in the bottom 10. (In fact, I almost live in the District of Columbia: it’s literally walking distance from my current home, though to be fair, the parts of DC that are most accessible to me are also the swankiest. I am quite sure I would not have wanted to live in the District in 1990, however.)

Another way to rank the states would be how much their unauthorised immigrant population has grown. Here are the top 10 states ranked according to the absolute percentage point change in their unauthorised immigrant population:

  1. Nevada
  2. New Jersey
  3. Texas
  4. Maryland
  5. Georgia
  6. Arizona
  7. Oregon
  8. North Carolina
  9. New Mexico
  10. Utah

Meanwhile the bottom 10 (the bottom 3 are actually negative, i.e. the proportion of unauthorised immigrants fell over these 20 years):

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Missouri
  3. Wyoming
  4. South Dakota
  5. West Virginia
  6. Maine
  7. Alaska
  8. Montana
  9. North Dakota
  10. Vermont

Again, I would much prefer to live in most any of the top 10 states than I would in the bottom 10. I lived in New Hampshire/Vermont for the first 4 years of my time in the US (I lived actually on the border of those two states) and as beautiful as they are in the autumn, I can’t say they have much to offer otherwise, especially in the depths of winter (though it would also depend on how much you love skiing or other winter sports). Obviously there is cause and effect here: nice states attract more immigrants. But it does seem clear that if unauthorised immigrants “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” by laying waste to the land of these attractive states, it isn’t terribly apparent from these rankings.

There is one way to slice the data that might be more favourable to restrictionist conclusions, though: we can rank states by the percentage change in their unauthorised immigrant population. So Alabama, with 0.12% of its population unlawfully present in 1990 versus 2.5% in 2010 would have a (2.5 – 0.12) / 0.12 = 1920.2% increase. The low base effect means that these rankings are somewhat suspect, but for your benefit, here they are (along with all the other data I used to construct the rankings above):

State/District 1990 % of pop 2010 % of pop %age point change over 20 years % growth over 20 years
Alabama 0.12% 2.50% 2.38% 1920.19%
Iowa 0.18% 2.50% 2.32% 1288.42%
Kentucky 0.14% 1.80% 1.66% 1227.28%
Tennessee 0.21% 2.20% 1.99% 972.98%
Indiana 0.18% 1.80% 1.62% 897.95%
Ohio 0.09% 0.90% 0.81% 876.24%
North Carolina 0.38% 3.50% 3.12% 828.54%
Wisconsin 0.20% 1.80% 1.60% 780.52%
Arkansas 0.21% 1.80% 1.59% 746.22%
South Carolina 0.14% 1.20% 1.06% 736.71%
Mississippi 0.19% 1.60% 1.41% 724.15%
Georgia 0.54% 4.40% 3.86% 714.40%
Nebraska 0.32% 2.40% 2.08% 657.64%
Hawaii 0.45% 3.10% 2.65% 587.10%
Maryland 0.73% 4.60% 3.87% 528.33%
Pennsylvania 0.21% 1.30% 1.09% 517.91%
Connecticut 0.61% 3.40% 2.79% 458.81%
Michigan 0.27% 1.50% 1.23% 457.72%
New Jersey 1.23% 6.20% 4.97% 404.50%
Oregon 0.88% 4.30% 3.42% 388.88%
Minnesota 0.34% 1.60% 1.26% 366.74%
Missouri 0.20% 0.90% 0.70% 360.52%
Utah 0.87% 3.80% 2.93% 336.46%
Oklahoma 0.48% 2.00% 1.52% 319.41%
Washington 0.82% 3.40% 2.58% 313.67%
Delaware 0.75% 3.00% 2.25% 299.70%
Kansas 0.61% 2.40% 1.79% 296.41%
Colorado 0.91% 3.60% 2.69% 295.34%
Louisiana 0.36% 1.40% 1.04% 293.88%
Nevada 2.08% 7.20% 5.12% 246.08%
Virginia 0.81% 2.70% 1.89% 234.22%
New Mexico 1.32% 4.30% 2.98% 225.74%
Rhode Island 1.00% 3.00% 2.00% 201.04%
New Hampshire 0.45% 1.20% 0.75% 166.22%
Massachusetts 0.91% 2.40% 1.49% 162.53%
Texas 2.65% 6.70% 4.05% 152.91%
Arizona 2.46% 6.00% 3.54% 144.36%
Florida 1.85% 4.50% 2.65% 142.59%
Illinois 1.75% 4.10% 2.35% 134.33%
Idaho 0.99% 2.20% 1.21% 121.48%
District of Columbia 2.47% 4.50% 2.03% 82.07%
West Virginia 0.28% 0.50% 0.22% 79.35%
New York 1.95% 3.20% 1.25% 64.49%
South Dakota 0.72% 1.00% 0.28% 39.20%
Wyoming 1.10% 1.50% 0.40% 36.08%
California 5.04% 6.80% 1.76% 34.90%
Maine 0.41% 0.50% 0.09% 22.79%
Alaska 0.91% 1.00% 0.09% 10.01%
Montana 0.63% 0.50% -0.13% -20.09%
North Dakota 0.78% 0.50% -0.28% -36.12%
Vermont 0.89% 0.50% -0.39% -43.72%

One interesting reaction to all these numbers might be that two decades is too little time to truly assess the long-run impact of unauthorised immigration on a state’s economy and society. So we should be looking for states like Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, etc. to become “wastelands” like California over the next decade or two (or at least see some pernicious effects such as bankrupt local governments or increasingly horrid public schools). Then again, many of these states were already in the top 10 in 1990, so it’s not all that clear that we shouldn’t be seeing these supposed effects already.

If you have any thoughts or reactions, feel free to share in the comments. I’ve also uploaded the same numbers in Excel spreadsheet format for ease of use. Hopefully these figures can drive some interesting conversation going forward; it’s quite plausible that I or another Open Borders blogger may return to them in the future.