Prosperous nations such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK have always attracted immigrants who are looking for better opportunities. Since the foundation of the United States of America, immigration has been an essential factor to the growth of the nation as well as a continuous source of conflict. In 2007, illegal immigrants outnumbered legal ones at approximately 12 million.
The debate over the economic implications of immigration isn’t clear-cut. On one hand, some argue that the ‘cost of giving illegal immigrants path to citizenship could outweigh fiscal benefits’ because these immigrants lack education, which results in low-paying jobs and small income-tax contribution. This would cost taxpayers $29 billion annually. On the other hand, there are studies which show that the full deportation reduces the GDP by 0.61%, legalization with border control increases it by 0.17% and legalization without border control increases it by 0.53%.
President Barack Obama has said on the matter, ‘We are not going to ship back 12 million people, we are not going to do it as a practical matter…So what I’ve proposed’ is you say we’re going to bring these folks out of the shadows. We’re going to make them pay a fine, they are going to have to learn English, they are going to have to go to the back of the line’ but they will have a pathway to citizenship over the course of 10 years.’
Clearly, Obama is emphasizing on the importance of immigrants’ integration in the society. Successful integration of immigrants is a key component of their success because it strengthens communities and promotes growth over the long run. For example, Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander found that nations that focus more on immigrants’ integration achieve higher levels of economic competitiveness, are more innovative, and have higher rates of entrepreneurship.
One way to measure the impact of integration policies is to use comparative evidence as a benchmark.
The Immigration Policy Center (IPC) is the US partner for a major international comparative study on integration laws across Europe, Canada, and the US. The Migrant Integration Policy Index, MIPEX, is a reference tool that measures and compares the immigration and integration policies of 31 countries.
The 148 questions in the MIPEX survey cover seven policy areas of integration: labour market mobility, family reunion, access to education, political participation, long-term residence, access to citizenship, and anti-discrimination laws and protections. Each of the seven policy areas is divided into sub-categories and scored on a scale of 0 to 100.
Sweden, Portugal, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands score highest on overall integration, while the lowest rankings go to Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Cyprus and Latvia.
The MIPEX ranked the US ninth overall and first in terms of its strong anti-discrimination laws and protections. In addition to this, the US also ranked high on the access to citizenship because it encourages newcomers to become citizens in order to fully participate in American public life. Compared with other countries, legal immigrants in the US enjoy employment opportunities, but many workers are obligated to look for jobs below their skill level because the US doesn’t facilitate the recognition of foreign diplomas. On the opportunity to reunite with close family members, the US received high marks for giving ‘a slightly favourable chance of immigration for the immediate family members of immigrants.’
However, MIPEX also acknowledges that the lowest score goes to long-term residence because the US’s complex immigration laws, limited visa availability, high fees, and long backlogs may make it challenging for immigrants to integrate fully in the American life. In addition, the second lowest score goes to political participation because unlike most European countries, non-citizens in the US cannot vote in federal elections and are not represented by federally’ sponsored advisory bodies.
Finally, MIPEX mentions that states including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington are taking the lead on immigrant integration.
The MIPEX report is not without some drawbacks. One limitation is related to the fact that the survey questions reflect European systems of government and policies that don’t necessarily apply to US laws. Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst at the IPC said, ‘Integration is happening in the US despite the fact that we don’t have a national strategy and don’t have some of the same laws and policies that other countries have’.
One way to address the immigration issue is to develop appropriate, country-specific integration policies. The MIPEX index offers policymakers a framework for analyzing and comparing immigrants’ integration, in addition to assessing the best and the worst practices.