U.S. and World Perspective: Immigration Policy #5

This is the fifth of five posts on immigration policy. For the first post and an overview, see here.

American public discourse on immigration is so hot-blooded that it often sounds as if the fate of the republic–or at least the economy–is at stake. But oddly enough, the economic issues related to U.S. immigration are in all likelihood dwarfed in size by the global gains.

While I believe that that an expansion of immigration offers gains to those already in this country, the gains seem likely to be small. For example, in the Cato Journal symposium, Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda uses a computable general equilibrium approach to estimate that a substantial rise in immigration could increase U.S. GDP by 0.8%–and even this modest gain is well above other estimates I\’ve seen. Similarly, while I argued in the third post in this series that the effects of immigration on government budgets were probably positive, they arguments over gains and losses to different levels of government, and the gap between the two, are measure in billions or at most tens of billions of dollars–which isn\’t much in the context of an annual federal budget now approaching $4 trillion.

The main gains from immigration, perhaps not surprisingly, go to the immigrants themselves, who may easily increase their incomes by a multiple of four or five times when moving from a low-income country to a high-income country. Large increases in immigration thus offer a possibility of a massive increase in world GDP Giovanni Peri sums up some of the evidence in \”Immigration, Labor Markets, and Productivity.\”  

\”[I]f one looks at several recent reports and studies on international migrations by economists and research institutions, their main emphasis is on the large size of global gains obtainable by increasing, even by a small measure, the mobility of people. A study by the World Bank (2005) estimated that an increase in international
migration equal to 3 percent of the labor force of developed countries would produce gains (to be shared globally) of $356 billion. Pritchett (2006) argues that the gains from increasing international mobility, even by a little, are much larger than those that can be obtained by fully liberalizing international trade, estimated in 2005 to be $104 billion. In the more extreme case of a full opening of more wealthy, Organization for International Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to workers from the rest of the world, Klein and Ventura (2007) calculate a potential massive increase in the world GDP on the order of 150 percent over 50 years. For economists, in short, international migration has the formidable ability of increasing total world income and productivity, generating huge global economic opportunities. The reason is very simple. By allowing people to move to countries where they can produce four to five times more value per hour of work on average than in their country of origin, migrations allow the deployment of world human resources in a massively more efficient way …\”

My own Journal of Economic Perspectives had some articles on emigration in the Summer 2011 issue that emphasized the possibility of substantial Gains from Emigration, as I posted last August 22. (Current and back issue of my journal going back to 1994 are freely available to all, courtesy of the American Economic Association.)

In short, the strongest case for immigration is not that it conveys huge benefits to the U.S. economy–it probably doesn\’t. But it certainly conveys huge benefits to those who migrate. I believe that national boundaries matter, and I\’m an American at heart. When it comes to public policy, I place a lower value on what happens to non-Americans than I do on what happens to Americans. Thus, I do believe that any costs to Americans resulting from immigration are a legitimate policy issue. But placing a lower value on what happens to non-Americans doesn\’t mean placing no value on what happens to them. The truly enormous gains received by migrants predispose me toward policies that would allow more immigration to the U.S.–and to seek alternatives for dealing with potential costs.

Enforcement: Immigration Policy #4

This is the fourth of five posts on immigration policy. For the first post and an overview, start here.

Discussions of enforcing limits on immigration often seem to begin and end with border security: how many guards, how long a fence, how many arrests and deportations. Such policies have been pursued with vigor since the 1990s, and they appear to have been effective.For example, here\’s a figure from Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny showing that southwest border apprehensions peaked back around 2000, and have had a generally downward trend since then.

Edward Alden sums up the current situation in \”Immigration and Border Control.\”

\”For the past two decades the United States, a country with a strong tradition of limited government, has been pursuing a widely popular initiative that requires one of the most ambitious expansions of government power in modern history: securing the nation’s borders against illegal immigration. Congress and successive administrations—both Democratic and Republican—have increased the size of the Border Patrol from fewer than 3,000 agents to more than 21,000, built nearly 700 miles of fencing along the southern border with Mexico, and deployed pilotless drones, sensor cameras, and other expensive technologies aimed at preventing illegal crossings at the land borders. … [T]the U.S. borders are far harder to cross illegally than at any time in American history, and the number of people entering illegally has dropped sharply. Evading border enforcement has become more difficult, more expensive, and more uncertain than ever before. …

The United States will never again be a country with loosely guarded borders. The political coalition in favor of tough border control is strong and probably durable; the threats from terrorism or other transnational crime are severe enough to necessitate effective border measures; and the desire by many to migrate illegally to the United States will remain strong enough that deterrence through enforcement is essential. The challenge, therefore, is how to make border security compatible with a sensible immigration system that strengthens the U.S. economy rather than weakens it.\”

My own sense of the evidence is that it is time to stop this continually increasing spending on border security and instead move to other ways of discouraging illegal immigration, including better tracking of those who legally enter the country on temporary visas, and steps to assure that employers can reasonably be held accountable for when they hire illegal immigrants.

Many of the writers in the Cato Journal special issue are not enamored of strong efforts to enforce limits on immigration. For example, the Alden essay is insightful on costs and problems of border enforcement, while Jim Harper discusses potential problems with the e-Verify system that lets employers check on the immigration status of potential workers.  However, contributors to the symposium seem often willing to entertain all sorts of alternatives, without a lot of practical skepticism. For example, Bryan Caplan suggests the possibility that how we could allow in very large numbers of immigrants, but make them ineligible to vote? We could also make their descendants ineligible to vote! Or we could not let them vote until their lifetime tax payments reach $100,000. We could impose special higher taxes on immigrants. We could make immigrants ineligible for welfare benefits. We could require tests of English fluency and cultural literacy for immigration. A number of other authors in the issue emphasize the possibilities of large but temporary flows of immigrants, who would sweep back and forth across the border in waves.

I understand the intellectual rationale for these sorts of proposals, but they seem to me overly clever, and thus likely to be impractical. Jagdish Bhagwati likes to quote the Swiss novelist Max Frisch on the subject of how western Europeans let in lots of guestworkers, on the explicit understanding that they could be sent home, but then found that in practical and political terms they could not be deported. Frisch said: \”We imported workers and got men instead.\” The idea of making immigrants and their descendants unable to vote works fine if the immigrants are just \”workers,\” but not so well if they are also human beings. A vision of crowds of immigrants arriving and departing as needed by the economy views those people solely in their role as workers, not as people with a wide range of goals–like falling in love with people and communities, or getting a better education for their children. Ultimately, it does not seem credible to me that such policies will be enforced in the long term. When it comes to practical enforcement, I place my trust in good old-fashioned policies like continued border security, along with visa enforcement and mechanisms for employers to be able to check whether they are hiring U.S. citizens.

Government Budgets: Immigration Policy #3

This is the third of five posts on immigration policy. For the first post and an overview, start here.

A common and plausible concern about immigration is that many immigrants don\’t pay much in taxes, but the government faces costs for education of the children of immigrants, health care of those with low incomes, and law enforcement. Thus, it is feared that immigrants contribute to the fiscal problems of government. To be clear, this concern over the effect on government budgets is really about immigrants with low skill levels and about illegal immigrants. Everyone accepts that legal high-skilled immigrants are on average a net plus for government in terms of the taxes they pay and the government benefits they receive. Daniel Griswold tackles this question head-on in \”Immigration and the Welfare State.\”

Griswold points out that immigrants–even illegal immigrants–do typically have taxes withheld from paychecks, as well as paying sales and property taxes. Recent legal immigrants aren\’t eligible for welfare benefits, and many illegal immigrants don\’t dare try to claim such benefits. For the federal government, immigration is almost certainly a net plus. However, certain state and local governments with high levels of immigration do face high costs of education, health care, and law enforcement related to immigration. He notes the straightforward policy fix: \”If Congress wants to more equitably share the fiscal benefits of immigration, it could distribute funds to states and localities based on the impact of immigration on health and education spending. This need not, and should not, require an overall increase in government spending and taxation, but merely a transfer of resources from the federal level, where immigration represents a net fiscal gain, to state and local governments, where it often imposes a net fiscal loss.\”

Griswold also makes the insightful point that low-skill immigrants are not choosing to locate primarily in high-benefit states–which strongly suggests that gaining access to such benefits is not their primary motivation. (Citations and references to tables omitted from the quotation.)

\”If we consider changes in the foreign born populations in individual states, for example, we can see that the largest gains have generally been in states that are relatively stingy in offering public assistance. … The 10 states with the largest percentage increase in foreign-born population between 2000 and 2009 spent far less on public assistance per capita in 2009 compared to the 10 states with the slowest-growing foreign-born populations—$35 vs. $166 …. In the 10 states with the lowest per capita spending on public assistance, the immigrant population grew 31 percent between 2000 and 2009; in the 10 states with the highest per capita spending on public assistance, the foreign-born population grew 13 percent. If immigrants were primarily concerned with collecting welfare, they would not be flocking to such states as Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Instead, they would be drawn to such states
as Michigan, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which in fact have seen very slow growth in their immigrant populations.

Undocumented immigrants are even more likely to self-select states with below-average social spending. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the low-spending states grew by a net 855,000, or 35 percent. In the high-spending states, the population grew by 385,000, or 11 percent. One possible reason why unauthorized immigrants are even less drawn to high-welfare spending states is that, unlike immigrants who have been naturalized, they are not eligible for any of the standard welfare programs. A second reason is that illegal immigrants are less likely to be well-educated and thus are not as attracted as more highly skilled immigrants to higher-income urban centers in such states as New York, Illinois,
and California. The higher-skilled immigrants gravitate to those states, not because of the higher social spending, but because of the higher rewards for skilled labor.\”

The Low-Skilled: Immigration Policy #2

This is the second in a series of five posts on immigration policy. For the first post and an overview, see here.

The effect of immigration on wages seems as if it must be obvious from Econ 101: increase the supply of something and you drive down its price. So immigration must reduce wages, right? The issues isn\’t that simple, for a number of reasons. Four such reasons are laid out by Giovanni Peri in \”Immigration, Labor Markets, and Productivity.\” Peri points out that immigrant labor is often focused on providing home services, in a way that has tended to free up high-skilled native women to enter the workforce or to work more hours.

\”In the United States (and in many European countries) one sector in which the presence of the foreign-born has been large and growing fast is that of home services (cleaning, food preparation, gardening, and similar) and personal services (child and elderly care). These are often characterized as “household production” services. This has allowed a significant share of female workers, often highly educated, to afford these services and to join the formal labor force outside the home or to increase their hours worked.\”

But even if low-skilled immigrant labor may be complementary to high-skilled native labor, surely it must depress wages of low-skilled native workers? Peri argues that this conclusion need not follow, because of ways in which firms and the economy respond to an influx of immigration. He writes (citations omitted): \”In summary, an economy will respond to immigration along several margins—through increased investment by firms, specialization of natives, complementarities between natives and immigrants, technological response by firms, and job creation. …This explains why a long tradition of empirical economic studies has found very small to no effect of U.S. immigration on native wages and employment at the national and at the local level.\”

Here is a bit more detail on each of Peri\’s four margins for economic adjustment in response to low-skilled immigration.

1) Investments

\”As a consequence of the availability of more workers firms invest: existing firms expand their capacity, and new firms are born. Returns to capital increase when more workers are available, and firms take advantage of this by investing.\”

2) Differences among Workers: More and Less Educated

\”Workers are not homogeneous. In terms of their labor market skills and productive activity there is a large difference between workers with high levels of schooling (tertiary education) and those with secondary or less. They use different skills and take different jobs. … In the United States as a whole, however, because of the combination of immigrants at the top and at the bottom of the schooling distribution, if we consider two groups of workers (more and less educated), immigrants have a distribution similar to that of natives. Hence their inflow did not alter much the relative supply of the two groups.\”

3) Specialization and Technology: Job Upgrades

\”Even more interesting is the differentiation of skills and productive characteristics between natives and immigrants within each of the two schooling groups. One very strong tendency among immigrant workers with low schooling is to concentrate in manual jobs. In manufacturing, construction and agriculture, for instance, they work as farm laborers, construction workers, roofers, drivers and so on. In services they work in food preparation, house services, child and elderly care. In contrast, similarly educated natives work in jobs which
use more intensively communication and interaction skills such as cooks, construction supervisors, farm coordinators, or clerks. In Peri and Sparber (2009) we show that, due to the limited knowledge of the language, immigrants have a comparative advantage in manual type of jobs. Hence they specialize in those, and in firms and sectors that hire immigrants, this produces higher demand for jobs of coordination and interaction typically staffed by natives, whose language skills are superior. This dynamic specialization in tasks according to skills pushes natives to upgrade their jobs (as communication-intensive occupations pay better than manual intensive ones) and protects their wages from competition with immigrants. By taking the manual jobs that natives progressively leave, immigrants often push a reorganization of production along specialization lines that may also increase effectiveness and efficiency of labor  … In some studies the mechanism described here, combined with the other effects described earlier in this section, results in a small positive effect of immigration on wages of less educated native workers.\”

4) Lower Wages of Immigrants: An Opportunity for Cost Cutting and Job Creation

\”One common empirical finding in the literature is that immigrants are paid less than natives with similar characteristics and skills. This is in part due to the fact that many immigrants, because of less attractive outside options (such as having to go back to their home country), have lower bargaining power with the firm. In this case firms pay immigrants less than their marginal productivity, increasing the firms’ profits. Such cost-savings on immigrants act as an increase in productivity for firms. Ottaviano, Peri, and Wright (2010) show that if a firm can cut costs in some productive tasks by hiring immigrants, this allows the firm to expand production and employ more people in the complementary tasks, many of which are supplied by natives.\”

In short, the economy is not a static mechanism with a fixed number of jobs that require a predetermined set of skills. Instead, the number of jobs moves over time. Even among those with low skills as measured by education, there can be vast differentiation of skills between, say, those who are proficient in English and those who aren\’t. Low-skilled native workers can in many ways be complements with low-skilled immigrants, not substitutes. Firms can and do adjust their methods of production in many ways. An economy is a flexible organism. That flexibility can be difficult for workers, who need to change and adapt, and will sometimes find their old jobs altered or even ended. But the flexibility is also the source of a gradually rising standard of living over time.

The High-Skilled: Immigration Policy #1

U.S. Immigration policy  is a combustible topic, so I\’ll just list five of my main beliefs up front.

  1. Allowing substantially higher immigration from high-skilled labor–in particular, by finding ways to let those who complete science and technology degrees or graduate programs in the United States remain in the country–should be a no-brainer. 
  2. Allowing higher levels of low-skilled immigration is admittedly a tougher call, although I would favor this as well. 
  3. When it comes to government budgets, immigration is an overall benefit to government budgets, but certain state and local governments that suffer losses.
  4. Increasing enforcement at the border may have reached diminishing returns–that is, high costs for relatively little benefit in limiting enforcement. However,  but other ways of enforcing immigration limits could be increased, like keeping better tabs on those with temporary visas and discouraging employers from hiring illegal immigrants. 
  5. Immigration is a much smaller policy issue for the United States than it potentially could be for the world as a whole.

    For some additional background, see my post of July 29, 2011, Thoughts on Immigration. But here I take my text from the most recent issue of the Cato Journal, which is devoted to the subject \”Is Immigration Good for America?\” The essays go beyond my five points, to tackling issues like birthright citizenship and future U.S. demographic trends. There is reasonable support for my points 1-3 and 5, but some disagreement when it comes to enforcement issues. To avoid making this post of encyclopedic length, I\’ll divide it into five parts: one for each of my five themes.

    The U.S. higher education system is widely acknowledged as the best in the world, and especially at the graduate level, it attracts top-notch students from all over the world. We invite them in, we provide financial support for their education, we often connect them to industry–and then we make it hard for them to stay. In a world economy where future economic growth depends largely on science and technology, U.S. immigration policy essentially chases away tens of thousands of highly qualified workers each year. Whatever one thinks about reducing illegal immigration or overall immigration, this policy of chasing away the high-skilled is hugely counterproductive.

    Here is Gordon Hanson making the point in \”Immigration and Economic Growth\” (references omitted for readability):

    \”Each year, U.S. universities conduct a global talent search for the brightest minds to admit to their graduate programs. Increasingly, foreign students occupy the top spots in the search. Data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates show that between 1960 and the late 2000s, the share of PhDs awarded to foreign students rose from one fifth to three fourths in mathematics, computer science, and engineering; from one fifth to three fifths in physical sciences; and from one fifth to one half in life sciences. U.S. university departments that have more foreign graduate students produce more academic publications and have their work cited more frequently. Once they graduate, U.S.-educated foreign workers patent at a significantly higher rate than U.S.-born workers. As a consequence, U.S. cities that attract these workers produce larger numbers of patents in electronics, machinery, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and other technology-intensive products. Simply put, high-skilled immigration promotes innovation. An additional benefit is that high-skilled immigrants are likely to pay far more in taxes than they use in public services, generating a positive net contribution to government fiscal accounts. …

    \”Today, the difficulty is not in attracting top foreign students to America but in keeping here them after they graduate. High-skilled immigrants have three primary channels for obtaining permission to work in the United States. The H-1B visa, which targets highly trained professionals, permits holders to work in the United States for a period of three years. It is renewable once, with the annual number of visas capped at 65,000. Employer-sponsored green cards permit holders to live and work in the country indefinitely. The annual number of new visas is capped at 150,000. The third channel is a family-sponsored green card, which requires marrying a U.S. citizen (visas for which there is no cap) or having a close relative already in the country legally (visas for which are capped at 640,000). Because of the limited number of work-based visas, the family visa route remains the most common path to legal residence for skilled workers. Rosenzweig (2007) reports that in the early 2000s among immigrants who entered the United States on student visas and ultimately obtained green cards, 55 percent did so by marrying a U.S. citizen. To make it in America, foreign students not only need to be smart enough to get into a U.S. university. They also need to be proficient at dating.\”

    Hoping for proficiency in dating is not a well-conceived immigration policy. It used to be, not that long ago, that foreign graduate students from places like India or China or Brazil would remain in the U.S. after graduation in part because they didn\’t see attractive professional opportunities back in their home countries. Those days are behind us. The U.S. is highly attractive to footloose global talent–it just needs to make it straightforward for that talent to locate here.

    Gains from Emigration

    Much of the literature on international migration takes the perspective of the receiving county: for example, how might immigrants into the United States be affecting wages for U.S. citizens or government budgets. The Summer 2011 issue of my own Journal of Economic Perspectives has a three-paper symposium on emigration–that is, looking at international migration from the perspective of the migrants themselves and the sending countries. Here are some highlights:

    1) Allowing much higher levels of international migration could provide gains to the migrants themselves that are enormous relative to size of world GDP. Michael A. Clemens offers a striking back-of-the-envelope calculation in \”Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?\” Clemens writes:

    \”Divide the world into a “rich” region, where one billion people earn $30,000 per year, and a “poor” region, where six billion earn $5,000 per year. Suppose emigrants from the poor region have lower productivity, so each gains just 60 percent of the simple  earnings gap upon emigrating—that is, $15,000 per year. This marginal gain shrinks as emigration proceeds, so suppose that the average gain is just $7,500 per year. If half the population of the poor region emigrates, migrants would gain $23 trillion—which is 38 percent of global GDP. For nonmigrants, the outcome of such a wave of migration would have complicated effects: presumably, average wages would rise in the poor region and fall in the rich region, while returns to capital rise in the rich region and fall in the poor region. The net effect of these other changes could theoretically be negative, zero, or positive. But when combining these factors with the gains to migrants, we might plausibly imagine overall gains of 20–60 percent of global GDP.\”

    Of course, Clemens goes into considerably more depth in the article, and argues that gains of this magnitude are plausible given the studies that have been done and the current state of knowledge of this area. I would emphasize further that many studies of migration look either at effects on those in the receiving country, or on those in the sending country, but somehow seem to leave out the gains to the migrants themselves–which may well be the dominant part of a broad social welfare calculation.

    2) Remittances sent back to their country of origin by migrants now top$300 billion per year. Dean Yang discusses this point in \”Migrant Remittances,\” along with going into more detail on why remittances are sent and how they are used. Yang offers this striking figure comparing the level of remittances over time to official development assistance, foreign direct investment, and portfolio investment. He writes: \”But since the late 1990s, remittances sent home by international migrants have exceeded offifi cial development assistance and portfolio investment, and in several years have approached the magnitudes of foreign direct investment flows.\”

    Yang also provides a table showing which countries depend most heavily on remittances, including 22 countries where remittances are more than 10% of GDP. 

    3) Brain-drain is a beg-the-question label for a phenomenon whose importance has not been demonstrated. One common concern about rising global migration is whether it will impoverish sending countries through loss of skilled labor. John Gibson and David McKenzie tackle this question in \”Eight Questions about Brain Drain.\”  They write:

    The term “brain drain” dominates popular discourse on high-skilled migration, and for this reason, we use it in this article. However, as Harry Johnson (1965, p. 299) noted, the term brain drain “is obviously a loaded phrase, involving implicit definitions of economic and social welfare, and implicit assertions about facts. This
    is because the term ‘drain’ conveys a strong implication of serious loss.” It is far from clear such a loss actually occurs in practice; indeed, there is an increasing recognition of the possible benefits that skilled migration can offer both for migrants and for sending countries. Thus, Prime Minister Manhoman Singh of India recently said: “Today we in India are experiencing the benefifi ts of the reverse flow of income,
    investment and expertise from the global Indian diaspora. The problem of ‘brain drain’ has been converted happily into the opportunity of ‘brain gain’ …\”

    Also, I hadn\’t known: \”The term “brain drain” was coined by the British Royal Society to refer to the
    exodus of scientists and technologists from the United Kingdom to the United States
    and Canada in the 1950s and 1960s.\”

    Thoughts on Immigration

    Each summer for the last 20 years or so, I\’ve spent a few days at the Stanford Summer Economics Institute for High School Teachers, giving some of the lectures and talking pedagogy with the participants. This year, one of my talks was on \”The Economics of Immigration.\” Here are some of my favorite Powerpoint slides from the presentation (as always in a jpeg format so they are easy to copy for your own presentation, if you wish), along with a few thoughts.

    Immigration–legal and illegal combined–is often measured by looking at the share of the U.S. population that is foreign-born, which is available through Census data. America\’s previous huge wave of immigration took the foreign-born share of the population up to around 14% for the later decades of the 19th century and the early 20th century. As the figure shows, the wave of immigration in recent decades hasn\’t topped that level yet, but is near 12% of population. It\’s worth remembering that America has long fluctuated between two views of immigration: one view represented by \”give me your tired, your poor\” written beside the Statue of Liberty, and the other represented by fierce restrictions on immigration, like effective ban on immigration from China starting in the 1880s, or the strict and limited quotas on immigration imposed in the 1920s. Both welcoming and opposing immigration are as American as apple pie.

    The current wave of immigration is somewhat split by skill level. Immigrants from Mexico and central America typically have an education level considerably below the American average. However, immigrants from other regions of the world have an education level above the American average. The tables, based on data from a Congressional Budget Office Report in July 2010, also show that this difference is manifested in the sorts of jobs that migrants take. The relatively low-skilled immigrants from Mexico and Central America are more likely to end up in jobs like construction, building and grounds maintenance, and food preparation and service. The relatively high-skilled immigrants from the rest of the world are more likely to end up in jobs like health care practitioners, mathematics, or computer science.

    The gains to immigrants coming to the U.S. from a low-income country are very large.Take someone with a given level of skill and work effort, move them from a low-income country to the United States, and their earnings are going to be much higher. Here are some illustrative numbers for building laborers and female factory workers from a 2009 report by UBS

    The question of how much immigration affects wages of U.S. workers is highly controversial. The answer often seems to depend on whether one analyzes data from a cross-section of cities, which tends to find that more immigration helps wages of native-born workers of all skills, or if one analyzes a time series of immigration patterns over time, which often finds that immigration hurts the wages of low-skilled native-born workers. Another factor underlying these different answers are analysis of whether low-skill immigrant labor is a complement or a substitute for low-skill native-born labor. The figure contrasts findings from two studies with different approaches. It is intriguing that even the studies which find a negative effect of immigrants on the wages of some skill levels of native-born labor find an effect that is quite small–no more than a few percentage points.

    Spending on border patrol enforcement has risen substantially in the last decade or so. In the aftermath of 9/11,  greater policing of the border was politically inevitable. But in the last few years, improvements in the work prospects in Mexico combined with the slowness of the U.S. economy has meant that flows of illegal immigrants have dramatically slowed, or even stopped. Thus, the U.S. is spending more money on the border patrol at a time when the need for doing so has diminished. As the figure shows, the result is that the cost per border apprehension has been rising sharply.

    Moreover, it turns out that about half of those in the country without authorization arrived with a legal visa in hand, but then overstayed their visa. In a world of limited resources, there is a case to be made for stopping any increased spending on border enforcement and instead increasing the very limited spending on those who overstay their visas. There is also a case to be made for at long last ramping up the federal E-Verify program so that employers can more easily check whether potential hires are authorized to work in the U.S.

    Finally, U.S. immigration policy is distinguished from most other countries both by the large numbers it admits, and also by its emphasis on handing out immigration slots based on family ties, rather than for work-related reasons. Here\’s a table from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, based on OECD data, showing the difference. A group of experts convened in 2009 by the Brookings Institutions and the Kenen Institute for Ethics at Duke University estimated that if family preferences in immigration law were limited to spouses and children, and not extended to aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like, this change could free up 160,000 slots to be filled by skill-related immigrants. This change would roughly double the level of skill-related U.S. immigration.

    Note: In an earlier version of this post, there was a typo in the second paragraph, where I referred to \”12% of GDP\” instead of \”12% of population.\” This version incorporates the correction. Thanks to sharp-eyed reader T.D. for calling this to my attention.