Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Economics

Advisor

Gary Hunt

Second Committee Member

Mario Teisl

Third Committee Member

Andrew Crawley

Abstract

Multiple studies that estimate the gains from eliminating barriers to global labor mobility conducted over the past 15 years have resulted in the same conclusion, that eliminating barriers to labor mobility would result in a significant increase in world GDP; findings range from a 67% increase in world GDP up to a 122% increase (see Iregui, 2005; Klein and Ventura, 2007; Moses and Letnes, 2004). The processes of international migration generate winners and losers, but this paper argues a more holistic approach towards immigration and immigration policy should be considered to realize the potential gains of increased global labor mobility.

There is much divide among Americans on immigration issues, and much of this social tension is created by the perceptions that immigration increases unemployment among and reduces wages of native workers in the host country (Daniels and Ruhr, 2003). Economists have yet to, and will probably never agree on the economic effects that immigrants have on natives (see Dustmann et al., 2016). The economics literature generally finds mixed effects of immigration on native workers but sizeable negative effects on previous immigrant groups. However, the economics does not justify the perceptions that immigration invariably increases unemployment among natives and reduces their wages. Unfortunately, these misperceptions engender unwarranted animosity towards foreign workers which can lead to discrimination, inequality, and restrictive immigration policy.

The historical policy analysis section of this paper identifies a distinct problem with American immigration policy: social attitudes impacted the development of immigration policy more so than economic conditions or outcomes. This finding reinforces the conclusion made by Daniels and Ruhr (2003) that immigration policies are affected by “misguided opinion rather than data or theory.” In America, immigration became an identity issue (Schain, 2008) and most of the policies Congress enacted aimed to define what it meant to be an American. As public opinion shifted back and forth between tolerance and intolerance, so too did immigration legislation.

It is the responsibility of the American public to understand that immigration is an extremely complex issue, and some of the misperceptions surrounding immigration are wholly unjustified by the economics. While there are winners and losers, overall America should embrace immigration and increased global labor mobility because otherwise, we could be leaving trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk (Clemens, 2011).

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