WASHINGTON – Economics should take a bigger role in setting global migration policies because migration is largely driven by labor market demands, an issue not understood by many of the immigration policymakers, a lead economist at the World Bank said Thursday.
Caglar Ozden, lead economist in the bank’s development and research group, outlined 10 ideas to strengthen migration policies, including employer-driven immigration programs, a path to citizenship or residency for temporary workers, evenly distributed refugee resettlement and assistance and re-training programs for native populations.
“However you cut it, it’s all about wages. Even refugee flows are determined by labor market demands at the end of the day,” Ozden said during a World Bank panel discussion. “But when you look at the top migration policymakers, there are very few economists. It’s dominated by soldiers and lawyers, who have a different mindset.”
Ozden argued that labor market demand is more powerful than policies to restrict migration. He said that after the United States ended its Bracero Program that welcomed temporary Mexican migrant workers in 1964, illegal Mexican immigration rapidly increased, keeping total Mexican migration at similar levels.
“You block one entry, and the power of the wage gap finds another way to equalize the equation,” he said.
Spokesman Dave Ray of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for reducing immigration and creating stricter laws, disagreed.
“You can never underestimate the value of deterrents,” he said in a phone interview. “It regulates how fast people drive, how often people cheat on their taxes, and it can regulate people from coming illegally. If people truly believe they will have difficulty coming in and getting a job once they’re here, far fewer will try to come in the first place.”
Ozden cautioned that migration-friendly policies would need to be offset with programs that help native populations adjust. He said that migration has serious downsides for citizens of the receiving countries and can lead to concentrated wage decline and displacement for citizens.
World Bank Vice President of Europe and Central Asia Cyril Muller said that citizens of countries such as those in Eastern and Central Europe would be more accepting of increased levels of labor migration if they better understood the economic benefits.
“You need migration to maintain vibrant labor markets,” said Muller. “That’s something some of these countries need to be challenged on.”
Muller acknowledged that some citizens are displaced if their job skills are similar to the immigrants, but asserted that economic diversification benefits outweighed those concerns.
“I’m worried closing their borders means they limit growth opportunities,” said Muller. “Look at Silicon Valley today—how many of them are first- or second-generation?”
Published in conjunction with