Dan Hopkins on the U.S. Immigration Consensus

by Reihan Salam

Dan Hopkins, a political scientist at Georgetown University, has written a brief summary of his research with Jens Hainmueller of MIT on how Americans would like to restructure U.S. immigration policy for Wonkbook. Rather surprisingly, my own views are squarely in the American mainstream:

One might have expected that immigrants’ countries of origin would play a sizable role in Americans’ preferences. But that’s not what we found. If they have other pieces of information about an immigrant, Americans don’t rely much on an immigrant’s birthplace. Instead, they put substantial weight on the immigrant’s education and profession. 

Hopkins elaborates on the attributes that survey respondents found most desirable in immigrants:

We see, for example, that having a college degree makes an immigrant about 20 percentage points more likely to be admitted, and that being a doctor has a positive effect of about the same magnitude.  The figure also makes clear that speaking fluent English carries a marked advantage, while having no plans to work once in the country puts an immigrant at a pronounced disadvantage.  The image of the hard-working immigrant resonates not just in politicians’ speeches but in Americans’ attitudes as well.  It’s as if our respondents are acting like the nation’s Human Resources department, screening for immigrants who would contribute economically.

To be sure, there are some differences by birthplace.  As compared to the baseline immigrant (who happens to come from India), Somali and Iraqi immigrants are at a disadvantage.  However, immigrants from Mexico—the single largest group of immigrants in the contemporary U.S.–are not penalized relative to any other countries.  That said, an immigrant who has previously entered the U.S. without authorization does face a penalty.   

Hopkins concludes by observing that there is widespread political support for something like the Canadian immigration regime, which strongly favors skilled immigrants. And interestingly enough, this is true for those with a college education as well as those without. One can imagine a universe in which self-interested college-educated workers opposed high-skilled immigrations on the grounds that it would put downward pressure on their wages, but perhaps the college-educated workers recognize compensating advantages, e.g., the fact that more skilled workers can contribute to the vitality of talent agglomerations, that they might represent affluent potential customers of knowledge-intensive services, they they will likely represent net contributors to the fisc, etc. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.