Immigration has both positive and negative impacts on host countries, and immigration policies need to be cleverly designed to promote positive outcomes and reduce concerns for the local population.
Advantages of immigration include the fact migrants help stimulate economic growth, fill labor market gaps, and introduce cultural diversity for local populations to enjoy. Without migration, populations would decline within a generation for all G7 nations.
However, disadvantages of immigration include conflict of values and attitudes between immigrant and local populations, potential costs to the taxpayer, and potential changes to a nation’s collective identity.
The below pros and cons play ‘devil’s advocate’ and not all reflect my personal views – in fact, some I don’t have a strong opinion about one way or another. But it’s also worth noting that I myself am an immigrant!
Immigration Pros and Cons
Pros of Immigration
1. Economic Growth: There is consensus among mainstream economists (e.g. Ehrlich & Pei, 2021) that an absorbable rate of immigration leads to a phenomenon called the “immigration surplus”, at least in the short-term. This is an observable phenomenon whereby immigration tends to cause an increase in the wages of locals. Notably, this surplus tends to be higher if the immigrant are highly-skilled, as Borjas (1995, p. 15) argues: “immigration surplus may be larger when the immigrant flow is composed of skilled workers.”
2. Fills Gaps in the Labor Market: A well-designed immigration policy will attract workers who will fill jobs that are unfillable with the local labor force. For example, visa classes can be introduced in industries that may not be attractive to locals, or in industries such as medicine where there is a lack of skilled workers among the local population.
3. Cultural Diversity: Immigration brings cultural diversity to the host country, leading to a more multicultural society, and introducing an exciting mix of cultural festivals, foods, and belief systems that can provide locals with a richer array of cultural experiences from the comfort of their home cities.
4. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Studies such as this one by Vandor (2021) suggest that immigrants are more likely to start businesses, stimulating innovation and economic growth. Hypotheses suggest that this may be because the cohort of people who engage in voluntary migration may be more likely to take risks and may set up businesses due to discrimination in the workforce.
5. To Maintain Population Growth: Wealthy and developed nations tend not to have sufficient fertility rate to maintain sufficient population growth. To maintain current population, a nation needs a replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. Furthermore, population growth has been one of the main drivers of economic prosperity within nations over the past 100 years. So, population growth is a good thing for the prosperity of a nation, at least in the short-term. But as the following data shows, no G7 nation has a fertility rate that matches replacement rate:
|Country||Fertility Rate (children per woman)|
6. To pay for Aging Populations: As noted above, many developed nations turn to immigration because their local population does not reproduce at a high enough rate to replace the aging local population. If there are insufficient working-age people compared to retirees, there is a lot of strain on the nation’s budget. The costs of welfare for the elderly needs to be paid by a large working-age population that is only large enough thanks to immigration!
6. Global Connections: Immigration can foster international relationships and cooperation, which can be beneficial for trade and diplomacy. The more interconnected a nation is with its global partners, the more they are likely to trade, interact, travel, and support one another. This promotes not only economic prosperity between nations, but also regional peace and stability.
7. Increased Consumer Demand: A larger population due to immigration boosts demand for goods and services, stimulating the economy. For example, a large nation like the USA has a competitive advantage partly because of the large domestic consumer market that businesses can tap into in order to grow and prosper. Simply, large countries have large domestic markets that are good for domestic companies.
8. Tax Revenues: Immigrants contribute to tax revenues, helping to fund public services. For example, this article argues that immigrants pay around 30% of the taxes in the USA, despite only accounting for about 13.5% of the population. (Note that other studies from right-wing sources have found the opposite – see the ‘cons’ section).
10. Global Humanitarian Reputation: Accepting refugees and immigrants can improve a country’s international reputation. Furthermore, it can ensure a nation maintains a commitment to being a good global citizen, absorbing its fair share of the asylum seekers living in camps around the world waiting for a host nation to accept them.
11. New Ideas: Immigrants can bring new ideas and perspectives that enhance innovation and creativity. For example, Elon Musk is an immigrant to the USA, having been born in South Africa and educated in Canada. He made the USA home and brought with him innovative entrepreneurship that gave us SpaceX and Tesla.
12. Managing Seasonal Demand: A well-designed migration system can also help manage seasonal demand, such as for seasonal worker visas where temporary migrants come to a nation during harvest season in the USA and Australia, or to work at the ski resorts in Canadian winters.
Cons of Immigration
1. Job Competition: Immigration can occasionally lead to increased competition for jobs, potentially impacting the employment opportunities for locals. While many migration systems attempt to offset this by enforcing labor market impact statements upon employers before hiring overseas workers, there are undoubtedly case studies of people missing out on a job that was given to an immigrant, especially if the immigrant is on an open work visa (I can even think of a situation where my wife missed a job that was given to an immigrant).
2. Overpopulation: Excessive immigration can lead to uncontrolled population growth, leading to overcrowding and strain on infrastructure. Immigration needs to have a long-view, where the ‘immigrant surplus’ isn’t just short-term, but pays for longer-term situations such as when migrants rely on the nation’s welfare system and where they can offset the costs of new schools, transit infrastructure, etc. (Ehrlich & Pei, 2021).
3. Cultural Friction: The integration of new cultures may lead to social tension and conflict. This is often due to unacceptable discrimination and prejudice. However, some valid concerns may exist when cultural norms come up against one another in public spaces.
4. Exploitation: Immigrants, particularly those undocumented, may be exploited by employers due to their precarious status. This commonly happens to people whose visa is tied to a specific job. In such cases, the boss has strong coercion over the employee, who can be sent back to their home country if they lose their job, which can make them feel stuck with a bad or exploitative boss.
5. Tax Strain: While earlier I cited a study that immigrants pay more into the tax system than they get out, other studies (Grubel & Grady, 2011) have noted that immigrants to Canada cost taxpayers $6,051 per immigrant. This same study also noted that “newcomers pay about half as much in income taxes as other Canadians.” However, without questioning the findings of the study, it is worth noting as a matter of media literacy for my readers that both the study and the newspaper in which it was reported have known right-wing ideological stances.
6. Wage Suppression: The introduction of low-skilled immigrant workers could potentially suppress wages in certain sectors. I noted earlier that this is not the case for skilled migration. But unskilled migrants have less of an immigrant surplus effect (Ehrlich & Pei, 2021), which implies that a good immigration policy that is sustainable for a nation should not have an open door to unskilled migration, and ensure there is a strong mix of skilled migrants entering the country.
7. Security Concerns: Some argue that immigration could pose a security risk. This is likely dependent on the effectiveness of immigration controls. It is hard to deny that there would be case studies out there of immigrants committing serious crimes and even leading to deaths of locals. Nevertheless, this study by Ajzenman, Dominguez and Undurraga (2022) found that immigration does not overall increase crime rates.
8. Social Integration Issues: Immigrants might struggle to integrate into the host society, leading to social divisions and situations where migrants tend to cluster together in suburbs. This is a reasonable and understandable phenomenon – chain migrants who move to be with family and friends will want to live together, after all.
9. Brain Drain: When skilled migrants come to a nation for work, there is a negative effect on the other end – in their home nation. The emigration of skilled workers from their home countries can lead to a brain drain, which might slow development in those countries.
10. Economic Dependence: Immigrants who cannot find work may depend on social welfare systems, leading to economic burden on the host country. I have already cited mixed insights from two different studies on this topic, but on a case-by-case basis, this of course has happened in some circumstances.
11. Language Barriers: Language differences can lead to communication difficulties and slow integration into society. This is one reason why migrants often have to take language tests. I needed to take one when I came to Canada, even though English is my first language.
12. Shifts in National Identity: Large-scale immigration can lead to concerns about shifts in national identity and cultural norms. This is one key worry of many people, who want to feel as if they live among people who share their values; without sufficient positive regard between immigrants and locals, concerns may occur.
13. Housing Demand: An increase in population due to immigration can lead to higher demand for housing, leading to potential housing shortages or increased housing costs. In nations like Australia and Canada, where housing prices have soared over the past 20 years, migration is one of many factors – but still an important concern that needs to be considered by policy makers before deciding to allow for migration to happen.
14. Political Polarization: Immigration can be a polarizing issue and lead to political unrest or division. While this is not a reason in and of itself to stop immigration from happening, it is still a possible negative externality of a migration policy.
15. Public Health Concerns: If not properly managed, immigration can lead to public health concerns, especially if immigrants come from regions with endemic diseases. For example, before I migrated to Canada, I had to get a full health check-up and had to be tested for various diseases, so I wouldn’t bring them to the country and so I wouldn’t put undue pressure on the public health system.
Nations with highest Migration
I thought it might be interesting to conclude with some graphs for you, demonstrating how your country compares to other countries in terms of migrants per year.
There are two ways we could dissect this: total migration, and migration per capita. I think per capita makes more sense, because it shows how many migrants a country takes in, in proportion to its population, giving a more accurate reflection of how open a nation is to immigration.
I thought it was really interesting that the USA and Germany are number 1 and 2 for overall raw migration figures, they’re not even in the top 20 for migrants per capita
1. Raw Migration Figures
Here that is, as a table:
|Country||Total Migrants (millions)|
|United Arab Emirates||8.7|
2. Migrants per Capita
Here that is, as a table:
|Country||Migrants per Capita (%)|
|United Arab Emirates||88|
Read Next: Why do People Migrate?
As an immigrant to Canada, I am grateful for the change to enjoy migration. However, having been settled here for some time, I, too am concerned about having a smart and controlled migration system. I enjoyed many benefits of migration – from the fact I come from one liberal western nation to another (Australia to Canada) so there was minimal culture shock and shared values between my home and host nations. My then partner, now wife, is also Canadian, so my transition was very easy. But I’m also proud to have started a business in Canada and be making a net contribution to my new home. As an immigrant, I do think it’s the migrant’s population to do their civic duty and contribute to the positive development of their new home.
Ajzenman, N., Dominguez, P., & Undurraga, R. (2022). Immigration, crime, and crime (mis) perceptions. Available at SSRN 4258034.
Ehrlich, I., & Pei, Y. (2021). Endogenous immigration, human and physical capital formation, and the immigration surplus. Journal of Human Capital, 15(1), 34-85.
Grubel, H. & Grady, P. (2011). Immigration and the Canadian Welfare State. Fraser Institue.
Vandor, P. (2021). Are voluntary international migrants self-selected for entrepreneurship? An analysis of entrepreneurial personality traits. Journal of World Business, 56(2), 101142. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2020.101142
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]