Are Concerns over Immigration to Do with Culture of Economic Reasons

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 2 October 2016

Are Concerns over Immigration to Do with Culture of Economic Reasons

Almost all economists are in agreement that immigration has positive economic effects. Indeed in the United States it “provides natives with a net benefit of at least $80,000 per immigrant, or as much as $10 billion annually” (Bolin, 2006). However despite this there are huge numbers of advocacy groups pushing the pros and cons immigration to the populations of the host countries, with natives having negative views towards immigration (McLaren & Johnson, 2007).

Through the course of this essay I will examine whether the root cause of these often xenophobic views towards immigration have root causes in economic reasons (immigrants taking jobs from natives, and leading to lower wages) or symbolic reasons, where the natives are fearful that the immigrants will bring their culture to the host country and cause change. Enoch Powell, the Conservative British politician, gave a warning that immigrants were causing such strife that “like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood” (Powell, 1969).

This turned out to be nonsense, and his advice that immigrants should be encouraged to leave, would have left Britain, and many other countries that rely on cheap foreign labour in a horrific state of affairs. Immigrants are now taking far longer to integrate into their host country and this is upsetting many natives. “In the past a third-generation migrant, for example in America, would have been expected to have shed much of his grandparents’ identity” (The Economist, 2008), not speaking his mother tongue and having little loyalty to the country his family originated from.

This is changing “as migrants feel loyalty to more than one country” (The Economist, 2008). For example, Moroccans in Europe, even fourth generation, are encouraged by the Government to identify with the African country, and are granted Moroccan citizenship under the constitution. As many source countries such as India and China grow intent on gaining remittances from their emigres, “migrants even several generations on may come under great pressure to retain some of their old identity” (The Economist, 2008).

This can all lead to immigrants never becoming fully integrated into the host country, causing social problems such as immigrants bunching together in the same place. Due to globalisation and time-space compression, it has become far easier for migrants to emigrate further away from their own country, this causes problems as they subsequently have little in common with their host country and find it harder to integrate into the community.

Traveling long distances to emigrate is no longer a problem and in the future there will be the problem of “people moving greater distances and settling among different ethnic, religious and cultural groups” (The Economist, 2008), meaning they will have problems integrating. “Danes in Sweden or Albanians in Greece have little trouble integrating into the relatively familiar societies next door. Even Poles in Ireland prosper, perhaps thanks to the incomers’ good standard of education and skill and the shared Catholic faith.

But Iraqis in Sweden, Somalis in Canada or Pakistanis in Norway typically find integration harder” (The Economist, 2008). Samuel Huntington blames this on the “great divisions among humankind” (Huntington, 1993) that are the differences between civilisations. He believes that immigration will ‘intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations’ (Huntington, 1993). This leads to a ‘them versus us’ attitude, with the natives having the xenophobic view that the immigrants are qualitatively different from themselves.

As the natives of the host country would have spent time constructing “discursive practices that attempt to fix meanings which enable the differentiation between the inside and the outside to be made” (Doty, 1996), they will resent immigrants not properly integrating themselves into the community. Research on social identity appears to conclude that identity is highly important to individuals, with individuals protecting these identities even if they have no realistic meaning (Monroe, et al. , 2000). People use these identities to provide a sense of self (Sniderman, et al. 2004), partly in order that they may distinguish between those similar to themselves and those different.

The ‘identities tend to have their basis in perceptions of differences’ (McLaren & Johnson, 2007)with those viewed as outsiders thought to have radically different values and approaches to life. “The threat posed by minorities and immigrants may be symbolic in nature and may stem from concerns about the loss of certain values or ways of life” (McLaren & Johnson, 2007), due to immigrants having a significant presence in the host country.

Immigrants also often congregate in areas of the host country, London for example has a huge immigrant and minority presence with only 44. 9% classing themselves as ‘White British’ (Gye, 2012), in the 2011 census. This all means that natives are fearful that immigrants will cause them to adapt or change their ways of life. Migrants who preserve “a strong religious sense that cuts across any national loyalty may be the hardest of all to assimilate into broadly secular Western societies”. In the post-9/11 world Muslims are often seen as being the greatest cultural threat to Western societies.

In a recent survey McLaren and Johnson measured anti-Muslim feeling in the United Kingdom. They found that 62% of people agreed with the statement that British Muslims are more loyal to Muslims around the world, than to other Britons, only 12% disagreed. Only 30% of Britons felt that Muslims living in Britain were committed to Britain, with 47% feeling that they could never be committed to Britain. 52% of people thought that Britain would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live there.

Clearly there is considerable anti-Muslim feeling in Britain and concern that British-Muslims pose a threat to the identity and culture of Britain (McLaren & Johnson, 2007). Most economists are in agreement that immigration has very little effect on native’s wages; this should mean that natives won’t oppose immigration based on the misbelief that immigrants lower wages. Although conventional economic wisdom states that an increase in supply of labour will lead to a decrease in price, this doesn’t happen.

Friedberg and Hunt conclude that a 10% increase in immigrant levels in the population, decreases wages by 1% (Friedberg & Hunt, 1995). Economist Francisco Revera-Batiz came to the same conclusion, noting that although immigration has increased the supply of low skilled workers into the United States, there has been very little impact on the wages of high school dropouts, the lowest skilled people in America (Rivera-Batiz, 1998). One of the most influential studies is Card’s 1990 study on the Miami Labour market after the sudden influx of 125,000 Cuban immigrants in 1980 due to a sharp downturn in the Cuban economy.

Surprisingly the arrival of so many immigrants didn’t affect native wages, although it did lower the overall wage level in Miami; due to the immigrants being employed in low-wage jobs (Card, 1990). This tallies with the outcomes of other natural experiments in recent history such as the homecoming of 600,000 Portuguese after the collapse of their empire in Africa in 1974-76, the return of 900,000 Frenchmen from Algeria in 1962 (The Economist, 2008) or the influx of 610,000 Russian Jews into Israel 1990-94, increasing the labour force by 12%; all had negligible effects on native wages.

Immigrants don’t decrease wages because as well as increasing the supply of labour, they become a domestic consumer for goods as well as services, they “create jobs as consumers and fill jobs as producers” (Bolin, 2006). A higher total population, ceteris parabus, will lead to the production of more goods and services, boosting the host countries gross domestic product (GDP). In some rare cases immigrants can even boost native’s wages. Illegal Mexican immigrants, who are “predominantly low skilled” (Bolin, 2006), have a positive effect on other workers’ wages (Bean, et al. 1998).

This is due to immigration increasing the productivity of native workers by “taking low-skilled jobs, freeing higher-skilled workers to work in higher-skilled employment where they can be more productive” (Bolin, 2006). Based on the results of a range of economists, using results based on a “range of methodologies” (Bolin, 2006), it can be seen that immigrants have a small negative impact on native wages, although mainly low-skilled workers. Based on this, natives shouldn’t be concerned over immigration levels based on their own wages falling.

The popular theory that immigrants ‘come over here and take our jobs’, has been shown to hold very little truth, as most studies “find no or negligible effect[s]” (Bolin, 2006) on employment rates. The ‘lump of labour fallacy’ is the mistaken idea that there are a set number of jobs in the economy, and when an immigrant takes one of those jobs, it is a job lost for a native. This is incorrect for three reasons. Firstly, by coming to a country “immigrants increase the supply of labour and hence reduce wages.

In turn, cheaper labour increases the potential return to employers to build new factories or expand their operations. In so doing, they create extra demand for workers” (Grinda, 2006), and more jobs are created. Secondly, immigrants are consumers as well as producers. When there is a large influx of immigrants such as the 610,000 Russian-Jews into Israel in the early 1990’s, they are in need of goods and services. People are employed to provide these goods and services, meaning more jobs added to the economy, and immigrants simply enlarge the economy.

Thirdly, immigrants are 10 to 20 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs and start their own business than natives (Briggs & Moore, 1994). In 1999, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Chinese and Indian immigrants run nearly 25% of the high-companies started in [Silicon] Valley since 1980…The 2,775 immigrant-run companies had total sales of $16. 8 billion and more than 58,000 employees” (Thurm, 1999). “Immigrants not only take jobs, they make jobs. They open new businesses that employ natives as well as other immigrants and themselves. And they do so in important numbers” (Simon, 1999).

Similarly, the findings by Friedberg and Hunt discovers “no evidence of economically significant reductions in native employment”. Card, as well as examining the impact of the Muriel boatlift on wages also examined the impact of it on employment. Even though Miami’s workforce was increased by 7%, virtually overnight, with an influx of relatively unskilled Cuban workers he finds “no evidence of an increase in unemployment among less skilled blacks or other non-Cuban workers. Rather the data analysis suggests a remarkably rapid absorption of the Muriel immigrants into the Miami labour force” (Card, 1990).

Again with immigrant’s impact on wages, the evidence seems to suggest that a lack of evidence that immigration causes native unemployment. This should mean that concerns over immigration should not be linked to worries over employment. Due to immigrants being “disproportionately low-skill[ed]” (Bolin, 2006) they tend to have lower wages than natives. It is often assumed therefore that they depend more upon the welfare system than natives. The level of benefits are often higher in the host country than the source country, and it is often suggested that it is this difference that brings in migrants.

Borjas coined the term “welfare magnet effect” (Borjas, 1999), making the point that immigrants are drawn to the country with the highest benefits. This however has all been shown to be completely false, and many economists believe that over the long term immigrants more than pay for the public services they use (Simon, 1999). In the United States “most immigrants, including Mexicans, are usually less likely than comparable natives to receive welfare”, with the per capita cost of social welfare for immigrants being 8% less than the per capita cost for natives (Bean, et al. 1998).

It is plain to see that objections to immigration come from those who are worried about the identity and culture of their nation being eroded, rather than for economic reasons. Immigrants are solving many problems for the host countries, such as the problems of aging populations and those participating in the workforce being increasing choosy about the jobs they do. Immigrants have few economic disadvantages, although high immigration may bring about a small decrease in jobs for the natives, the tax revenue that they bring in more than displaces this negative effect.

As the immigrants have little impact on jobs, and simply create more jobs in the economy, disproving the lump of labour fallacy, they don’t have a negative impact on wages which is a positive for the economy as a whole. The argument that immigrants have a negative impact on the identity and culture of a nation holds some truth. Due to the fact that a nation’s identity is made up of what its inhabitants believe it to be, immigrants having different views, can water this identity down.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 October 2016

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