In which we talk all about immigration
(Apologies for repeating a question I tweeted at Matt Yglesias)
Am I correct in thinking that the comparison in Dr. Boustan's study (between immigrant and native families earning at the 25th percentile) doesn't control for parental years of schooling? Unless there's some methodological obstacle to getting that data, it seems to me that's pretty important.
Many educated immigrants come to the US and end up earning in the bottom quartile because of language issues or the inability to transfer their qualifications. If their kids are the ones pulling up average incomes in the first-generation group, then there's no evidence that immigrants self-select for *other* qualities that will make their children succeed.
So if that's all that her research shows, you can't reject the null hypothesis: that this is just variation in inherited intelligence, together with the initially depressed status of middle-class families who lose social capital when they emigrate.
But if Boustan has controlled for parental education and still found that immigrants' children are more successful, it does support her argument that education-based screening of immigrants isn't very important. So one would want to know whether she did.
I think the strong country-of-origin effects might indicate that she hasn't. The outperformance of Mexican immigrants' children--mean earnings at the 50th percentile vs 46th for natives' kids--may or may not be statistically significant but in any case it's very small.
For Asian families the gaps she found were larger. That's what you'd expect if those immigrant groups include a higher percentage of educated professionals than Mexicans, some of whom nevertheless end up in low-paid jobs.
But it wouldn't be right to assume that, because I haven't seen the study. Can Noah clarify?
The question isn’t whether immigration is good, but rather what kind of immigrants we want for the benefit of our workforce, culture and future citizenry and how do we manage the process to gain these objectives? The current policy, which is to favor immigrants who can most easily walk across the border because one political party believes this is in their interests, is not ideal.
The last thing we want is a monoculture among immigrants. This impedes integration (as Spanish has become the lingua Franca of workplaces everywhere) and is the antithesis of diversity. Why should we favor someone from Mexico over Argentina, Brazil, the Bahamas, Nigeria, Philippines, Vietnam or Nigeria? We shouldn’t. People from all of those countries and continents want to come to the US. And workplaces with immigrants from a range of cultures and languages are perhaps sooner to default to English as a common language and American as a common identity (in time).
Ms. Boustan is incorrect about the number of H-1B visas that can be issued. They are not the same as in the early 90ies. The number of visas was originally capped at 65,000. Around 2000 the employers used Y2K as an argument and the number of H-1B's went up to 195,000 for three years in a row, to revert afterwards to 65,000 again. In 2005 Congress added 20,000 H-1B visas for applicants with advanced degrees (M.S./Ph.D) Furthermore non-profit educational institutions, research labs, etc. can apply for H-1B visas outside of the cap. Which means another about 40-50-60,000 (?) H-1B visas issued every year. Employers now go around the H-1B cap: if they have a location abroad as well as in the US, they hire a worker and after a year sent him/her to the US on an L-1 visa.
It would have been nice if Ms.Boustan had mentioned the problems with H-1B visas: the H-4, a visa that is issued to the wife of the worker. This visa does not allow to work or to (meaningful) volunteer. Furthermore, to be allowed to immigrate an H-1B needs a permanent visa, the Green Card. The number of visas issued every year to workers is 140,000. But that number includes women and children. So actually the number of workers allowed in is about 70,000. Did you see all the numbers I gave earlier ? That was workers, in those numbers women and children were not included. This all has lead to enormous waiting times, especially for H-1B's from India, as there is also a per country limit. Many of them are waiting over 15 years already. Violence in Indian families is by now a known problem, especially in areas where it is hard to exist on one income only. An H-4 woman cannot call for help, if the husband is arrested he will lose the H-1B and both have to go back to India.
Furthermore the number of petitions filed, exceeds the number of capped H-1B's considerably. There is now a lottery, with a chance of 1 in 3. How on earth is that a way to find a highly qualified person, the right man for the job ?
About 85% of capped H-1B's are issued to males, no employer in his right mind "wastes" an under-the-cap petition on a female.
Since Indian H-1B/H-4 couples are now in the US for such a long time, any children they brought can turn 21 before the visa is issued. That means the child has to leave the US. For children brought legally, there is no DACA exception possible.
I would so have liked it if Ms. Boustan, or another immigration expert, had talked about these issues. But no. Currently there is a shortage of workers in the US. I am asking - politician, experts - why then H-4 are not allowed to work ? No answer. We were unwanted, we are unwanted, we stay unwanted. No Country of Opportunity for us. We live in the Republic of Gilead.
Thanks, those were several points I'd never considered, and the piece was an interesting read.
That said, it didn't address my biggest concern with immigration, which is house prices. In my country, it is almost infeasible for a couple to buy a house in reasonable proximity to work, unless they are on a substantially higher than average salary. Prices only continue to rise. The only explanation I can see is increased demand, which can only come from population growth, which comes from immigration. Almost all the money I ever make will go to a house, so this iseems
In Iexcchange for house prices going through the roof, what am I getting from mass immigration? Australia has one tenth of America's population, yet our standard of living is no lower, so I don't seem to be benefiting economically in the grand scheme of things. I suspect I am getting purely screwed, and this irks me.
Naturally, the same concern applies regardless of immigrant ethnicity, and I'd still oppose it on this ground even if all were white.
I think this is a terrific interview. Thank you, Noah. I was unaware of Professor Boustan's work and am now eager to read more of it.
It is ridiculous to have this conversation without using two important letters: IQ.
"I was wondering how much of it is due to differences in how selective our system is"...
That's the key question, isn't it? I'm still shocked at the discussion we had re. Afghans being 10x less criminal than the native US citizen but 5x more criminal than the native German citizen. Even if you adjust for the US being 5x more violent than Germany, it's a staggering difference in experience with immigration.
And maybe a bit of that is due to natives being more welcoming in the US than Germany but it's got to be down mostly to selection effects.
Which is the same issue we got with education. If you let teachers select their pupils with the aim of succeeding at a given exam, the success rate will be close to 100%.
Ditto with immigrants. If you can select your immigrants, it's pretty easy to make a success of immigration. Diploma is an obvious answer but, even concentrating on "low skill' immigration (which is useful/necessary too), if you spend any amount of time on selection, even just relying on "gut feelings" from your immigration officers, I suspect you would dramatically improve outcomes.