Immigration and the Aging Society

The same characteristics apply to Canada in terms of the limited impact of immigration on addressing an aging demographic. However, given Canada’s prioritizing skilled immigration, the fiscal drain arguments don’t apply (previous studies by Grubel that argued thus were flawed):

The idea that immigration is the solution to the aging of American society has become an article of faith among those arguing for ever-higher levels of new arrivals. They assert that, in societies such as the United States, where fertility rates are low relative to historic patterns, the native population will not supply enough workers to maintain a robust economy and pay for government services, particularly retirement programs. If native-born Americans aren’t going to have enough children to balance the longer-lived elderly population, the argument goes, then our only option is to increase immigration levels.

It’s not a crazy argument; it just happens to be incorrect. In reality, a significant body of research shows that the impact of immigration on population aging is small. While immigration can certainly make our population larger, it does not make us dramatically younger.

And yet, commentators have been making such arguments for years. The late Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer asserted in 1998 that America has been “saved by immigrants” from the kind of aging taking place in other first-world countries. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush famously said that America needed higher levels of immigration to “rebuild the demographic pyramid.” At the data-journalism site FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman has argued that immigration is the “only thing” preventing the country from facing a “demographic cliff.”

The release of the 2020 census showing the U.S. population grew by only 22.7 million since 2010, coupled with preliminary data indicating a sharp drop in fertility during the Covid-19 pandemic, have prompted a new round of articles asserting that immigration is the solution to population aging. The title of a recent Vox piece by Nicole Narea summed up this view: “The Census Shows the US Needs to Increase Immigration — By a Lot.” Similarly, George Mason University’s Justin Gest has called for doubling immigration to make the United States “younger, more productive and richer.”

But demographers have known for a long time that, absent truly gargantuan and ever-increasing rates of immigration, it isn’t actually possible for immigrants to undo or dramatically slow the overall aging of society. As Oxford demographer David Coleman observes, “it is already well known that [immigration] can only prevent population ageing at unprecedented, unsustainable and increasing levels of inflow.”

Those who argue that immigration is the key to dealing with an aging society are right about one thing: Both the share of the population that is of working age (16 to 64) and the ratio of workers to retirees are declining as Americans live longer and have fewer children. It is also true that, primarily due to post-1965 immigration, immigrants and first-generation Americans represent a growing share of the U.S. population and workforce. But this does not mean that immigration can dramatically slow or halt the aging of American society to nearly the degree that many seem to believe.

There are four broad reasons why the demography doesn’t support the political credo. First, not all immigrants arrive young — in fact, a growing share are arriving at or near retirement age. Second, immigrants age just like everyone else, adding to the elderly population over time. Third, immigrant fertility rates tend to converge with those of the native born. Fourth, to the extent that immigrants do have higher fertility rates than the native born, their children add to the dependent population — those too young or old to work. All of this means that immigration has only a modest impact on the working-age share of the population and the ratio of workers to retirees.

Immigration and Population

Studying the impact of immigration on population aging is nothing new for demographers. In a 1992 article in Demography — the top journal in the field — economist Carl Schmertmann explained that mathematically, “[c]onstant inflows of immigrants, even at relatively young ages, do not necessarily rejuvenate low-fertility populations. In fact, immigration may even contribute to population aging.” In 1994, Thomas Espenshade, the former chairman of Princeton’s sociology department and director of its graduate program in population studies, concluded the same. “Immigration,” he observed, “is a clumsy and unrealistic policy alternative to offset a shortage of domestic labor or to correct a perceived imbalance in the pensioner/worker ratio in the United States.” Likewise, as part of its population projections in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau stated that immigration is a “highly inefficient” means for increasing the working-age share in the long run.

More recent studies only confirm these conclusions. A paper I co-authored for the 2012 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, for instance, shows that future levels of immigration have a modest impact on population aging. A 2019 version of that paper, which is based on the most recent Census Bureau population projections, demonstrates the point yet again.

According to those projections, the total U.S. population will reach 404 million in 2060. This figure assumes current trends in net migration — the difference between the number of people arriving and those leaving — will continue, at an average rate of about 1.1 million each year. To determine the effect this level of immigration will have on the U.S. population, we can compare the bureau’s 2060 projection to the projected population under a scenario where net migration is zero (which is unlikely in the extreme, of course, but useful for our analysis). In this scenario, the U.S. population would decline slightly, to 329 million. The 75-million difference between the two figures represents the impact that immigration will have on the total population over the next 39 years.

The Census Bureau also estimates that, in 2060, 59 percent of the population will be of working age. Again, this is based on the assumption that net migration will amount to an average of 1.1 million each year. Under a zero-immigration scenario, just under 57 percent of the population would be of working age. In other words, while immigration is projected to add 75 million people to the American population by 2060, it will only increase the working-age share of the population by about two percentage points. Even if annual net immigration were expanded by 50 percent above what the Census Bureau projects, so that it averaged about 1.65 million a year, it would still only increase the working-age share of the population by three percentage points.

Part of the reason immigration has such a small effect on the working-age share of the population is that while it certainly adds new workers, it also adds to the number of retirees over time, as well as to the number of children. To be sure, these children eventually grow up and become workers. But by the time this happens, many of their immigrant parents will have reached retirement age. These two developments tend to cancel each other out over time. As a result, immigration does not have much of an impact on the share of the population that is of working age in the long run.

This fact is key to understanding why immigration has such a modest impact on overall population aging. Looking at the average age of immigrants over time, as opposed to projecting into the future, shows how this works. In 2000, the average age of all immigrants — not just new arrivals — was 39.2 years. By 2019, it was 46 — a seven-year increase. Over the same period, the average age of native-born Americans increased only slightly, from 35.4 years to 38 years. Part of the reason for the disparity is that all children born to immigrants are considered natives, so they add only to the native-born population. Nonetheless, the relatively high and increasing average age of all immigrants is a good reminder that they grow old like everyone else, even if they do arrive when relatively young.

Most people recognize why a larger senior population increases government expenditures, but fewer acknowledge that a larger population of children does so as well. Government spending on children makes up a sizeable portion of federal, state, and local budgets: The United States spent $726 billion on public schools during the 2017-2018 school year alone. Federal and state governments also spend more than $1 trillion per year on means-tested programs, a large share of which goes to families with children. Indeed all societies, including ours, devote enormous resources to providing for children, and for good reason. But a larger population of children means the state must spend more to provide for them.

Even if we were to exclude children from the analysis and focus solely on the ratio of working-age people to retirees (those 65 and over), the impact of immigration would still be modest. Under the Census Bureau’s current projections, there will be 2.5 working-age people per retiree in 2060. If the projected immigration rate were cut in half, there would be 2.3 workers per retiree. Commenting on our findings at a panel discussion, American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt summarized the upshot succinctly: “[I]mmigration cannot possibly over the long run maintain a youthful population structure.”

Of course, as Espenshade and Coleman suggest, it is theoretically possible to use immigration to preserve the current working-age share of the population, as well as the ratio of workers to retirees. But doing so would require levels of immigration that have no precedent in American history. Our analysis shows that, to roughly maintain the working-age share of the population, immigration rates would have to increase five-fold over what the bureau currently foresees. This would create a total population of 706 million in 2060 — more than double the current population. Under such a scenario, by 2060, most U.S. residents would be post-2019 immigrants or their offspring. This level of immigration would be transformative in the extreme; few aspects of society would remain untouched by adding so quickly and so dramatically to the U.S. population.

Immigration and Aging

Population projections provide a reasonable picture of what is likely to happen demographically in the future, but they also rely on assumptions about trends that are always changing. As a result, the newest Census Bureau projections do not fully reflect the significant increase in the age at which immigrants are now coming to America.

Although newcomers were slightly younger in 2019 than they were in 2018, the average age of new immigrants, including illegal immigrants, is still much higher than it was in the past — increasing from 26 in 2000 to 31 in 2019. Perhaps even more surprising, the share of newly arrived immigrants who are 55 and older more than doubled, from 5 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2019. This means that one in nine new immigrants is arriving old enough to move directly into a retirement community.

Why are immigrants arriving at older ages? One reason is that, as the United Nations has reported, fertility is declining and life expectancy is increasing worldwide. Rapidly aging populations in countries that send immigrants to the United States almost certainly translate into immigrants arriving at older ages, at least to some extent.

Even more importantly, U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents for permanent residence without numerical limits. Parents typically immigrate to the United States after age 50, meaning they tend to be at or near retirement age as soon as they arrive. As the number of naturalized citizens living in the United States has nearly doubled since 2000, it should come as no surprise that the number of immigrants arriving each year in the parents category has increased in turn.

It is fair to criticize this category of permanent immigration — at least for a society facing an entitlement-funding crisis, such as ours. But it would be politically difficult to end the program. Press accounts in recent years indicate that the Trump administration considered offering parents a continually renewable temporary visa instead of permanent residence, but no such policy was formally proposed. The Biden administration is unlikely to advance such an idea. And in any case, the approach would still have meant the arrival of perhaps 150,000 or more parents each year, who would have added to overall population aging.

The understandable desire of many immigrants to bring their parents to the United States means that any immigration reform that emerges from Congress will almost certainly allow a substantial number of older immigrants to enter the country on both permanent and long-term temporary visas. Once these individuals arrive, it is hard to imagine the government refusing to provide some level of assistance for them — after all, many elderly immigrants who did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security or Medicare often end up receiving Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Like our devotion to providing for children, our commitment to assisting the elderly is not without merit. But we should also be cognizant of how immigration policy affects our ability to make good on this commitment as our society ages.

Immigration and Fertility

A key reason for the aging of America’s population is the declining fertility rate among the native born. Many commentators assume that immigration can help reverse this trend, as they believe immigrant women tend to have many more children than do American-born women.

Yet as mentioned above, declining fertility rates are a near-universal trend. Several of the top countries that contribute to America’s immigrant population — including Cuba, Vietnam, China, and South Korea — have fertility rates near as low as, or even lower than, that of the United States. More importantly, immigrants living in the United States are increasingly reflecting these trends: Despite a 9 percent increase in the total number of immigrant women of childbearing age between 2008 and 2019, there were 158,000 fewer births to immigrant women in 2019 than there were in 2008.

As the graph below indicates, the total fertility rate (TFR) — the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime — for immigrant women has fallen steadily. In 2008, immigrant women had a TFR of 2.75. By 2019, the rate had fallen to 2.02. A TFR of 2.1 is widely considered necessary to maintain the existing population. Thus, for what is almost certainly the first time in American history, the immigrant fertility rate was below replacement level.

As the graph above indicates, the TFR for native-born women also declined over the same period. But it did so by roughly half as much as it has among immigrants. To be sure, the overall immigrant TFR of 2.02 is still higher than the 1.69 TFR of natives. But the presence of immigrants only pulls up the overall TFR in the United States to 1.76 — an increase of just 4 percent.

The steep decline in immigrant fertility has not received much media coverage, even while the fall-off in births nationwide has received a good deal of press. In fact, many people remain unaware that it has occurred. The Census Bureau is aware of the development, but again, the trends it relies on are always changing, and it takes time to incorporate changes of this kind into its population projections. As a result, the bureau’s most recent projections do not fully capture this trend, instead assuming a 2019 TFR for immigrants of 2.5 — well above the actual rate of 2.02. Because immigrant fertility is much lower than projected, the small, positive impact of immigration on population aging shown in the bureau’s projections is even smaller. What’s more, although the fertility numbers for 2020 are preliminary, we do know that fertility was down significantly in the country during the pandemic. There is no reason to believe immigrants bucked this trend.

Among native-born Americans, Hispanics have seen the steepest drop in fertility in recent years. American-born Hispanic women had a TFR of just 1.77 in 2019. The TFR was 1.42 for American-born Asian women that same year — both well below replacement level. The rate for native-born whites and blacks was 1.69 and 1.68, respectively. In short, among native-born whites, blacks, and Hispanics, there is now no meaningful difference in fertility rates, while the native-born Asian fertility rate is a good deal lower than the rest. Thus, in a very real sense, immigrants and their children are assimilating to American norms when it comes to family size. This means immigration is no game changer when it comes to the nation’s birth rate.

Intriguingly, some research indicates that immigration may actually lower the fertility rate of the native born, most likely by driving up housing costs, which discourages couples from starting or expanding their families. Kelvin Seah of the National University of Singapore has found that the Mariel Boatlift to Miami — during which about 125,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in the city during a five-month period in 1980 — caused a significant decline in native fertility. In an analysis completed this year, Karen Zeigler and I show that in large metropolitan areas, a higher share of immigrants in the population correlates with lower fertility among the native born, even after controlling for each city’s demographic characteristics. If this finding is confirmed, it could erase, and perhaps even reverse, the small positive impact of immigration on the nation’s overall fertility.

The Fiscal Picture

One of the central concerns about population aging is the ability of an older society to pay for government. With immigration, the hope is that young immigrants will help pay for entitlement programs. Of course, this depends on their actual tax payments relative to the fiscal costs they create. While many immigrants are young, are highly skilled, and have high incomes, immigrants on average have less education and lower incomes than do native-born Americans. This makes it difficult for them to generate the kind of fiscal surplus that would be necessary to help them pay for entitlement programs.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimated the current net fiscal impact of all immigrants and their dependents using eight budgetary scenarios. In all eight of these scenarios, immigrants and their dependents were found to be a net fiscal drain, paying less in total taxes than the costs they created. Though they were found to be a surplus in four of the scenarios at the federal level, their fiscal drain at the state level offset the federal surplus.

Even if immigrants were able to shift the ratio of workers to retirees dramatically, it would not help fill public coffers if they are a net fiscal drain on government funds before they reach retirement age. The best evidence indicates that this is in fact the case, at least at present. One might think this fiscal drain is due to the immigrant population consisting of mostly newcomers who are still trying to find their way in America, but this is not so. In 2017, the average immigrant had lived in the United States for 21 years.

NASEM also ran long-term fiscal projections (out 75 years) for immigrants and their descendants, which showed a fiscal deficit in four of the scenarios and a surplus in the four others. Projections of this kind are quite speculative, involving not just predicting births, deaths, and migration in the way that population projections do, but also predictions about future tax rates, spending, economic growth, and the progress of immigrants over several generations. The upshot of the fiscal analysis is that the current situation is clearly negative, while the long-term impact is uncertain.

To be clear, immigrants are not a fiscal drain because they are lazy or because they came to America for welfare. In fact, working-age immigrants are slightly more likely to hold a job than are working-age natives. This is especially true of the least-educated immigrants, who are much more likely to work than are the least-educated natives. The main reason for the current fiscal drain is straightforward: Immigrants are less educated on average than are native-born Americans, and as a result, they have lower average incomes, lower average tax payments, and a higher use of means-tested programs than natives do.

One way to change the fiscal picture, at least for future immigrants, would be to move away from the current system, which admits people primarily because they have a family member here, and toward a system that selects more highly educated immigrants who are likely to earn high incomes. But given political realities, it’s hard to imagine that the admission of family members will not remain a significant component of U.S. immigration policy.

The bottom line is that it’s simply not reasonable to expect a family-based immigration system to create an inflow of highly educated, high-income immigrants who are likely to help solve our fiscal problems, no matter what it does to the age structure. This is especially true because, as a society, we have been unwilling to tax ourselves enough to pay for government — hence our enormous federal debt, even before the pandemic, and heavy borrowing at the state and local levels. As a result, the average American, whether immigrant or native born, is in fiscal deficit. Our unwillingness to pay for the programs we desire is, of course, not the fault of immigrants. But given current circumstances, admitting higher numbers of immigrants, even if they were average taxpayers, would worsen our fiscal situation.

Beyond Projections

Population projections, with their inherent uncertainty about future trends, are not the only way to think about the impact of immigration on the nation’s age structure; it’s also possible to estimate the impact of immigration based on what has happened in the recent past. The Census Bureau collects detailed data on immigrants (including most illegal immigrants) in the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, making such retrospective analysis relatively straightforward. Since this method frees analysts from having to make any of the assumptions that would otherwise be necessary for developing a population projection, it is useful to our purposes here.

Zeigler and I have taken Census Bureau data from 2017 and found that, since 1990, immigrants — including the original immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren — have added 43 million people to the country. This total exceeds the combined population of 22 states and represents one in eight U.S. residents. Looking at this large and relatively young population offers a good test of the argument that immigration can solve the problem of an aging society.

Our analysis shows that these post-1990 immigrants and their progeny increased the overall working-age population percentage from 63.9 percent of Americans to 64.4 percent. The impact is small because, as already discussed, immigration added to both the number of workers and the number of people too young or too old to work. Even if the number of post-1990 immigrants and their offspring had been double the actual number, the working-age share would have increased to 64.8 percent — just 0.9 percentage points higher than if there had been no immigration at all.

As for the ratio of working-age people to those of retirement age, post-1990 immigrants raised it from 3.7 workers per retiree in 1990 to 4.1 potential workers per retiree in 2017. While not a trivial impact, this increase was still quite modest. The post-1990 immigrants did add a significant number of workers, but they also added over 2 million people aged 65 and older, as well as 2.7 million people nearing retirement (ages 55 to 64).

The overall conclusion from this retrospective analysis is that immigration had little effect on the working-age share of the population and a larger, but still modest, impact on the ratio of workers to retirees. This largely confirms the projection-based conclusions discussed above.

Alternative Strategies

If immigration is unlikely to dramatically transform the age demographics of our society, how can low-fertility, high-life-expectancy countries like the United States deal with population aging?

The most obvious solution is to raise the retirement age. One of the main reasons for the entitlement crisis as it relates to providing for the elderly is the increase in life expectancy. Pushing back the age of retirement — or at least the age when people can receive publicly funded old-age entitlements — would align policy with demographic reality.

The retirement age is not set in stone, as even today, programs like 401(k) accounts, private pensions, and government pensions can all be accessed at different ages. At present, the retirement age for full Social Security benefits is set to rise from 66 to 67 by 2027, while Medicare eligibility remains fixed at 65. Meanwhile, remaining in the workforce has become more common among the elderly, particularly among the so-called “young old” — those ages 65 to 69. In 2000, about a quarter of the people in this age group worked. By 2019, the portion had increased to one-third.

People who reach age 66 today can expect to live substantially longer than their counterparts in the 1930s did, when Social Security was created. If the retirement age for Social Security were increased to 70, it would still allow the average recipient to receive benefits for longer than retirees did in the 1930s while nearly preserving the working-age share of the population through 2060. As Eberstadt put it during the panel mentioned above, “raising the age of retirement has a bigger bang” when it comes to the share of the population who are workers than does immigration.

Our retrospective analysis confirms this conclusion. Raising the retirement age by just one year in 2017, assuming no post-1990 immigration, would have increased the ratio of workers to retirees by as much as the 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their offspring did. Increasing the retirement age by two years would have improved the worker-to-retiree ratio in 2017 more than did all 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their descendants combined.

Besides raising the retirement age, another effective option for addressing population aging is to increase the number of Americans in the labor force. By historical standards, the number and share of working-age people outside the labor force was quite high in 2020, even before the pandemic hit. At the start of 2020, about 71 percent of working-age non-institutionalized people — those not incarcerated or in long-term care facilities — were employed; the rest were either unemployed and looking for work or had left the labor force entirely. By then, labor-force participation rates across every major demographic subgroup had been declining among people without a bachelor’s degree for decades.

In our population projections, we found that if we assume the working age remains at 16 to 64, but the share of those working were raised to 75 percent from the pre-pandemic level of 71 percent, it would increase the worker share of the population by as much as would adding 75 million people to the population through immigration over the next four decades.

Returning discouraged workers to the labor force may not be easy given all the social problems many, especially the least educated among us, face. That said, as recently as 2000, 74 percent of working-age people were employed. Moving a larger share of working-age Americans back into the labor force is thus hardly unimaginable. Doing so would directly improve the ratio of workers to retirees and, as non-work is associated with significant social ills, would have some desirable non-economic effects on society to boot.

What Immigration Can’t Do

Every analytical approach to the question of aging demonstrates that, unless the level of immigration is truly enormous and ever-increasing, it will not solve or even significantly alleviate the challenges associated with an aging population.

The reason behind this truth is simple: Immigrants are human beings, not just the idealized workers or child-bearers that some commentators imagine. As humans, they immigrate at all ages, grow old over time, and are choosing to have smaller families. As a result, they add to the population across the age distribution and do not fundamentally change the nation’s age structure.

One can advocate for immigration for any number of reasons, including the fact that immigrants themselves benefit greatly by coming here. But it is simply dishonest, and therefore irresponsible, to claim that immigration will address the fiscal and other challenges of an aging society that maintains an enormous welfare state for the elderly.

Given this reality, we will need to think about other means of addressing our fiscal troubles, including changing the structure of our entitlement programs and coaxing more native-born Americans into the workforce. If we are serious about addressing the challenges associated with an aging society, we cannot depend on immigrants to save us.

Source: Immigration and the Aging Society

Increased Immigration is Not A Simple Solution for US Population Woes

I do not normally agree with the Center for Immigration Studies, with its general anti-immigration work, but this analysis largely mirrors my own concerns regarding the arguments of Canadian advocates for increased immigration:

Conventional wisdom has developed that the United States desperately needs more immigration to address the supposed twin evils of population aging and slowing population growth. The 2020 Census showing the U.S. grew by “only” 22.7 million over the last decade has prompted a new round of calls to expand immigration.

In fact, immigration does not make the population substantially younger unless the level is truly enormous and ever-increasing. Moreover, there is no body of research showing that higher rates of population growth necessarily make a country richer on a per-person basis. Advocates of mass immigration also ignore the downsides of larger populations, as well as the more effective and less extreme alternatives that exist for dealing with an aging society.

Despite this reality, Jay Evensen of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News argues that the slowdown in population growth revealed by the Census “portends a population disaster.” Bloomberg News’ Noah Smith thinks lower population growth creates a “grim economic future.”

Many commentators argue for increasing immigration above the more than one million already allowed in each year to spur population growth and “rebuild the demographic pyramid,” as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush famously put it in 2013. But as the former director of Princeton’s graduate program in population studies, Thomas Espenshade, observed a number of years ago, “the effect of alternative immigration levels on population age structure is small, unless we are willing to entertain a volume of U.S. immigration of historic proportion.”

To illustrate, the Census Bureau’s “low-immigration” scenario produces a U.S. population of 376 million in 2060, compared to 447 million under its “high-immigration” scenario — a 71 million difference. Under its low-immigration scenario, 56 percent of the population will be working-age (18-64) in 2060, compared to 57 percent under its high-immigration scenario. Thus, the addition of 71 million people raises the working-age share by just one percentage point.

One reason the impact is so modest is that immigrants are not uniformly young when they arrive — many now come in their 50s and 60s — and they grow old over time just like everyone else. Moreover, immigrant fertility now only slightly exceeds native-born fertility, and their children add to the dependent population — those too young or too old to work. Of course, these children eventually grow up and become workers, but by then many of their immigrant parents will be at or near retirement age.

Given the inefficiency of immigration as a tool to address population aging, immigration advocate Justin Gest at George Mason University is forced to propose unprecedented levels of future immigration to accelerate population growth and slow population aging. In a piece for CNN and a report for the immigration advocacy group, he argues for doubling immigration to the United States to make the country “younger, more productive, and richer.”

Gest’s own projections show that the current level of immigration will make the U.S. population 74 million larger in 2050 than if there was no immigration, while doubling immigration would add another 92 million people by 2050.

Gest emphasizes that making the population 166 million larger increases the aggregate size of the economy significantly. More workers, more consumers, and more government spending does make for a larger GDP. But a larger population means the larger GDP is spread out over more people, so each individual is not necessarily better off. If all that mattered was the overall size of the economy, Bangladesh would be considered a richer country than New Zealand. Of course, what really determines the standard of living in a country is its per capita GDP.

Gest claims that the 74 million additional people that the current level of immigration would add will raise per capita income by 4 percent in 2050, relative to no immigration. He further asserts that doubling immigration would, along with an additional 92 million people, increase average income by another 3 percent. The idea behind this calculation is that if there are more workers — or more specifically, if a larger share of the population is of working-age — the average income of the entire population will be higher.

What is so striking about these numbers is that even if everything Gest argues is true, adding a total of 166 million people to the country — more than the combined populations of France and Germany — in just three decades only modestly improves per capita economic growth. But even this small increase is an overestimate if the new immigrants crowd out some existing workers from the labor force. There is certainly evidence that this happens with teenagers and Black Americans.

In the real world, it is hard to find evidence that population growth actually increases per capita economic growth. For example, if population growth were such an economic boon, then countries like Canada and Australia, which have among the highest rates of immigration and resulting population growth in the developed world, would dramatically outpace a country like Japan, which has relatively little immigration and a declining population. And yet, between 2010 and 2019, Japan’s per capita GDP growth was slightly higher than Canada’s and Australia’s. Among all developed countries, the correlation between population growth and per capita economic growth was actually negative between 2010 and 2019.

One of the reasons population growth is not associated with economic growth is that increasing the supply of workers reduces incentives to improve productivity. Looking across countries, a 2017 study by Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason found that “low fertility is not a serious economic challenge.” Instead, they find that “The effect of low fertility on the number of workers and taxpayers has been offset by greater human capital investment, enhancing the productivity of workers.” There is simply no reason to assume that a larger population will necessarily be richer.

Putting aside economics, making the population 166 million larger or even 74 million larger than it would otherwise be has important environmental implications. While population is not the only factor that determines human impact on the environment, it does have a direct bearing on everything from preventing further habitat loss to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

One can debate the severity of climate change and how best to address it. But mathematically, if the total population is 166 million (50 percent) larger in 2050 than it would otherwise be, then each person would have to reduce their greenhouse gases admission by roughly one-third just to maintain the current level of emissions, to say nothing of lowering levels. As Joseph Chamie, the former director of the United Nations Population Division, pointed out in The Hill recently, stabilizing America’s population is necessary “to deal effectively with climate change and many other critical environmental concerns.”

In addition to the environment, making the population dramatically larger must also have profound implications for the quality of life. Most Americans aspire to live in areas with a fair amount of open space. A 2018 Gallup poll found, by a two-to-one margin, that Americans want to live in rural areas or suburbs. The rapid suburbanization of immigrants shows that they share this desire. Significantly increasing the nation’s population density is likely to make it more difficult for many Americans to live the way they want to.

There is also the issue of traffic. As a Brookings Institution analysis a number of years ago concluded, “The most obvious reason traffic congestion has increased everywhere is population growth.” Traffic congestion alone has been estimated to cost the American economy $120 billion annually. Both the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Department of Transportation have reported that the nation’s roads are in a state of disrepair and need significant upgrades. It is hard to imagine that adding tens of millions more people in just 30 years would not create even more congestion.

If we are concerned about population aging, there are far less radical ways to address it. Projections by Karen Zeigler and myself show that raising the retirement age by just one year increases the share of the population that is working-age (16-64) about as much as all of the immigration expected by the Census Bureau through 2050. Increasing it by three years improves it more than does doubling immigration. We also found that increasing the share of working-age people who have a job from the pre-Covid rate of 70 percent to 75 percent would do more to improve the overall share of the population who are actually workers in 2050 than would the current level of immigration.

Population boosters assume a larger population would be a boon to the economy, even though there is no clear evidence that this is the case. They also ignore the negative impact on the environment, congestion, traffic, and other qualify of life issues. There are more effective, less radical, and more environmentally sustainable ways to deal with the challenges associated with population aging than using an ever-increasing level of immigration to dramatically increase the population.

Dr. Steven Camarota is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Source: Increased Immigration is Not A Simple Solution for US Population Woes

Immigration Newspeak II — USCIS Edition

Predictable criticism by CIS on the more inclusive language of the Biden Administration. Similar to Canadian debates over “illegal” border crossers and “irregular arrivals”:

As I previously wrote, open borders advocates vehemently oppose the use of precise legal terms found in U.S. immigration law. The recent “dehumanizing” strawman term is “alien”, which is defined in statute at section 101(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as: “The term ‘alien’ means any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” The Biden administration particularly despises the term and devotes an entire section of its mass amnesty bill to replace “alien” with “noncitizen” throughout the INA. While this legislative change is silly and unnecessary, if it becomes law then so be it, that is the proper way of making change.

However, Biden’s deputies at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have taken it upon themselves to preemptively trash statutory language in favor of the activists’ preferred lingo. Unexpectedly, the first change occurred at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where agents were ordered to discontinue using “alien” and “illegal alien” and instead use “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual”. Further exposing the absurdity of this linguistic gymnastics, ICE agents were ordered to replace “aslyee” with “asylum-seeker”. When I worked at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the term “asylee” was largely understood to mean an alien who had established eligibility for asylum. Under the Biden “newspeak”, legitimate asylees have now been demoted in reference to speculative asylum seekers. DHS justified this change as “an effort to align with current guidance and to ensure consistency in reporting”. But, as my colleague Art Arthur pointed out, the term “noncitizen” inherently defines someone by what he or she is not — a citizen.

Alas, this illogical scrubbing of technical language has reached my former agency. As first reported by Axios (and confirmed by my sources), USCIS staff received a memo February 16 — dated February 12 — with the subject “Terminology Changes”. (See the two pages of the memo here and here.) Citing the Biden-backed mass amnesty bill that has still not formally been introduced in either chamber of Congress, the memo says “the Biden Administration provides direction on the preferred use of immigration-related terminology within the federal government” and includes a table of previously used terms and the Biden-approved replacements. On the outs are “alien”, “illegal alien”, and “assimilation”, which are replaced with “noncitizen”, “undocumented noncitizen or undocumented individual”, and “integration, civic integration”. Curiously, the table also lists “undocumented alien” as a previously used term (to be replaced by the same terms acceptable in place of “illegal alien”) yet this term was never used in my four years at the agency because it is an inaccurate term made up by amnesty advocates.

Un-ironically, the memo contradicts itself by saying the guidance “does not affect legal, policy or other operational documents, including forms, where using terms (i.e., applicant, petitioner, etc.) as defined by the INA would be the most appropriate.” In the table replacing “alien” with “noncitizen” there is an associated footnote that reads, “Use noncitizen except when citing statute or regulation, or in a Form I-862, Notice to Appear, or Form I-863, Notice of Referral to Immigration Judge.” Translation: This cringe-worthy effort is a messaging gimmick.

At a time when USCIS is continuing to struggle financially and has record-level backlogs, posturing by the political appointees at the agency demonstrates a clear disconnect from the serious issues the agency needs to address. At the risk of embarrassing the Biden political appointees at USCIS, I do wonder if they are aware that the “A” in “A-Number” (the unique personal identifier assigned for immigration benefits) and “A-File” (individual files identified by the A-Number) stands for “alien”. Has the USCIS Office of the Chief Financial Officer calculated the time and money it will take to replace “A-Files” with (presumably) “NC-Numbers” and “NC-Files”? How about a complete overhaul of the USCIS website? Even if the answer is yes, which I doubt, what a waste of resources.

If you believe the memo, the terminology changes are essential for “the interest of effective communication” and “designed to encourage the use of more inclusive language.” I can think of nothing more ineffective than requiring USCIS staff, the media, and the public to maintain a cheat sheet of terms in order to communicate and understand what is being discussed. And, again, who exactly is “excluded” by statutory term “alien”? The memo, unsurprisingly, is silent on that point.

Source: Immigration Newspeak II — USCIS Edition

Foreign Students and Online Instruction: Canada’s Approach

An Intern for the largely anti-immigration Centre for Immigration Studies, has praise for the Canadian approach to international students during COVID-19 (and of course, there is also an anti-immigration “industry”:

Last week, ICE announced that new incoming foreign students will be denied entry to the U.S. if their institution plans to deliver solely online coursework. Such a regulation makes sense; new international students can engage in virtual learning and come to the U.S. once they have a reason to be on campus. However, the announcement only arrived after the agency succumbed to special interests regarding the larger current student visa population, which is now free to enter and remain in the U.S., regardless of whether students are studying in-person or remotely.

As a sophomore at Dartmouth College, some of my closest friends in university are F-1 visa recipients, and I have directly seen how international students enhance the campus community. But the Department of Homeland Security must look after the national security interests of the U.S., which are undermined when over one million foreign students are able to study virtually off-campus, and the federal government cannot track their whereabouts. That said, ICE’s initial decision was abrupt, leaving many in precarious situations. For example, some of my some of my international peers, who had already returned home, feared that studying remotely in their native country could result in the cancellation of their F-1 visas.

Perhaps, instead of entirely backing down and resorting to complete non-enforcement, the United States should have handled the student visa situation through a more measured approach to reconcile both national immigration security interests, as well as international student well-being. And it seems such a policy is being implemented in Canada.

Despite having a dismal record on immigration issues, Justin Trudeau’s reigning Liberal government is handling the Canadian foreign student situation with prudence. Last week, Canada’s federal immigration department announced that international students will not be allowed into the country until their institutions reopen. Entry will be only permitted on an individual discretionary basis, if one can prove they need to be on campus. Most Canadian public universities are delivering entirely virtual instruction, with the exception of a few specific STEM programs that feature an in-person lab component. This Canadian policy stands in accordance with the correct notion that entry into a country should be permitted only to those who have legitimate reasons to do so; only when international students have a reason to be on campus will they be permitted to study in the country.

Marguerite Telford, the Center’s Director of Communications, drew an analogy to tourist visas to explain this idea. Despite closing their doors to visitors, many museums are offering virtual tours. Issuing a student visa to someone studying at a virtual institution is akin to a country granting a visitor visa to a foreigner planning to attend a virtual museum tour: something that is unnecessary and preposterous. Canada has adopted this belief in shaping its student visa policy; however, it has simultaneously enacted several measures to mitigate any concerns of foreign students.

Canada has ensured that they will not have their visas rescinded for temporarily continuing their education abroad virtually. Further, foreign students already in the country have not been instructed to leave; if they do voluntarily, however, they will not be granted re-entry until on-campus instruction resumes at their institution. Of course, Canada’s decision is not entirely uncontroversial, given it has upset the usual migration advocates, who are urging the government to designate every foreign student as “essential”. However, viewed through a rational lens, the policy represents a pragmatic middle ground: international students outside of Canada will only return when their campus reopens and they have a clear reason to do so, but they will not be penalized on visa grounds for studying virtually from abroad, and those still inside the country can remain put.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has pragmatically handled its student visa situation by balancing national security and international student interests – an approach the U.S. should have likewise adopted. However, in America, negotiation is difficult when interest groups, such as the higher education industry, refuse to co-operate. Unfortunately, the government’s response should not be to completely kowtow. Strong immigration policy entails making tough decisions. Until then, we are stuck with capitulation without compromise – and that does not put American interests first.

Source: Foreign Students and Online Instruction: Canada’s Approach

Birth Tourism, Belts, and Braces

Interesting analysis of the visa screening proposal by the Trump administration and some of the implementation issues:

A news story about the likelihood of a crackdown on birth tourism by the current administration got me thinking about birth tourism as a challenge, in and of itself, and how its management is complicated by the number of migration screenings experienced by a pregnant alien woman.

Birth tourism, as my colleagues and I have argued over the years, is a problem because it not only allows instant citizenship for the infant involved, it grants immigration benefits to that child’s parents 21 years later — all without any governmental control, and all beyond the numerical ceilings that control most legal immigration. CIS has estimated that there are about 33,000 such births a year.

The news story reports that the State Department has announced that it is contemplating issuing a new regulation that a tourist visa should not be used in connection with birth tourism, and that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may being doing the same.

Were both State and CBP to come up with such policies, how would they be enforced? This leads to my comments about the varying number of screenings that a pregnant alien could experience on her way to becoming a birth tourism mother. The more processes, the more likely the pregnancy would be noticed.

The number of barriers that an expecting mother faces would vary, to some extent, by the likelihood of her giving birth in the United States. Women arriving from China, Russia, and Nigeria, often mentioned in this connection, would have a harder time bringing this off than, say, a Canadian, but it’s unlikely that a Canadian would be interested in birthright citizenship for her expected child. (Aliens from the first three countries need visas to enter the United States; Canadians do not.)

In some cases, to use a British metaphor, there would be a single barrier (or belt) to birth citizenship, and in others there could be as many as one belt and two pairs of braces; here are the variations:

  • One belt: The mother in question is from a visa-waiver country, so she would not need a visa, she simply has to get past the immigration officer at the U.S. airport where her plane lands.
  • One belt: The mother is Canadian and needs to be admitted at a port of entry; she might be a passenger in a car, at night, with her body shape hidden in clothing.
  • One belt plus one set of braces: The mother’s nation of origin is such, say Peru, that she needs a visa to come to the United States, so she is screened once at the embassy and again at the airport.
  • One belt plus two sets of braces: That visa-bearing Peruvian woman is in China when she finds out she is pregnant; she chooses to fly to Guam to see her sister, is inspected there, and inspected again in Hawaii on her way to California, another birth tourism hot spot.

The reader will note that the proposed control of birthright citizenship is confined to people with tourist visas. Other longer-term visas are not involved. Some tourist visas are issued for multiple years, and the visa-issuance process regarding birth tourists would not be effective in those cases.

My musing about the number of barriers erected by policymakers is not just a matter of immigration trivia because one of the prime centers of birth tourism is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, just north of Guam. Chinese nationals, while needing a visa to come to the Mainland or Hawaii do not need one to go to CNMI; so there is only the CBP officer at the Saipan airport between them and birth tourism.

Birth Tourism Is Not for Everyone. The baby’s parents have to be financially strong enough to pay the bills, young enough to be parents, and farsighted enough to go through this whole maneuver; though my colleagues may disagree, this is not a bad combination.

Birth tourism, like the movement of immigrant investors in the EB-5 program, attracts well-to-do migrants, as family migration, generally, does not. And both birth tourism and EB-5 are apparently very attractive to well-to-do, but nervous, people from China.

EB-5 is limited to 10,000 visas a year, but there are no limits to birth tourism.

Source: Birth Tourism, Belts, and Braces

New Estimate: 72,000 USA Births Annually to Tourists, Foreign Students and Other Visitors (CIS)

Bit of an overly simple methodology to use given that it assumes similar behaviours and natality rates between groups. Much more comfortable on the Canadian data despite its limitations, available from CIHI:

Two new analyses by the Center for Immigration Studies estimate that there are 39,000 births a year to foreign students, guest workers and others on long-term temporary visa, plus an additional 33,000 births annually to tourists – 72,000 in total. Those born to these “non-immigrants,” as the government refers to them, are awarded U.S. citizenship because they were born in United States and not because a parent was a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holders). These births are in addition to the nearly 300,000 births each year to illegal immigrants.

Our analysis does not address the controversial question of whether the U.S. Constitution actually requires “birthright citizenship,” as it is often called, to anyone born in the United States regardless of the parents’ immigration status. Rather, our estimates inform that discussion by estimating the scale of births to non-immigrants, which is one part of the birthright citizenship controversy that is seldom considered.

“Our analysis makes clear that the number of children born to visitors is not trivial; and over time the numbers are substantial,” said Steven Camarota, the report’s lead author and the Center’s Director of Research. “It seems doubtful that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment could have anticipated that tens of thousands of people each year would automatically be granted citizenship simply because their parents were on a temporary visit to the United States at the time of their birth.”

Births to Long-Term Temporary Visitors

  • The government estimates that in 2016 there were 800,000 women age 18 to 44 in the country on long-term non-immigrant visas, primarily foreign students, guest workers, and exchange visitors.
  • Based on a comparable population of women in Census Bureau data, we estimate there are 49 births per thousand to these women for a total of 39,000 births annually or 390,000 each decade.
  • The birth rate for non-immigrants aged 18-44 is relatively low compared to the 77 births per-thousand for immigrant women generally. However the total number of births to temporary visitors is still large because so many foreign students, guest workers and exchange visitors have been allowed into the country.
  • We estimate that at least 90 percent of the fathers of children born to non-immigrant women were not U.S. citizens, almost all them on temporary visa themselves or illegal immigrants. This means at least 35,000 children were born to a non-immigrant mother and were awarded U.S. citizenship at birth solely because they were born on U.S. soil and not because their parents were citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders).

Birth Tourism

  • Many news stories in recent years have focused on “birth tourism,” which describes the phenomenon of pregnant women coming to America shortly before their due dates so their children are born in the United States and are awarded U.S. citizenship.

  • Based on a comparison of birth records and Census Bureau data, we estimate there were 33,000 births to women on tourist visas in the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. This translates to perhaps 330,000 such births each decade.

  • While there is significant uncertainty around this number, our new estimate is very similar to our prior estimate for second half of 2011 and first half of 2012.

  • It should be emphasized that the small number of mothers who provide a foreign address on birth documents are probably not birth tourists, as those engaged in birth tourism likely list a U.S. address so they can receive birth certificates and passports before returning to their home countries. These addresses are typically a relative’s or a residence arranged by those “selling” birth tourism services.

Source: 372000 Born to Illegal Aliens and Visitors Every Year, 33000 to ‘Birth Tourists’

ICYMI: US Immigration fees jump for the first time since 2010, making it tougher for would-be Americans

immigration_fees_jump_for_the_first_time_since_2010__making_it_tougher_for_would-be_americansIn contrast to Canada, US CIS is a revolving fund, with all fees raised used for the citizenship program. In Canada, any increase in fees goes to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (general government revenues), with no direct link to the citizenship program expenditures:

For the first time since 2010, the Department of Homeland Securityhiked a range of administrative fees for citizenship applications — in a few cases more than doubling the costs of key services. Any new petitions filed after Dec. 23 will not be accepted unless they include the higher fees.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with handling immigrant applications, said in a statement the proceeds will help cover detecting fraud, processing cases and a range of other administrative costs, in what USCIS called a “weighted average” price hike of 21 percent.
Experts say the stiffer bureaucratic costs means the path to becoming an American could become a heavier burden for many cash-strapped would-be citizens. However, USCIS justified the price hike by arguing the agency was almost exclusively funded through the fees paid by petitioners, and needed the cash infusion.

Still, USCIS Director Leon Rodríguez said in a statement that the agency was “mindful of the effect fee increases have on many of the customers we serve,” which is why it waited so long to increase fees.

Peter Boogaard, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told CNBC that along with the new fees, “USCIS will also offer a reduced filing fee for certain naturalization applicants with limited means.”

Still, “these changes are now necessary to ensure USCIS can continue to serve its customers effectively,” he added.

US citizenship ‘as soon as possible’

The new pricing could have far-reaching implications for the vast number of immigrants that vie for U.S. citizenship on an annual basis. Each year, USCIS naturalizes hundreds of thousands of new citizens.

Source: Immigration fees jump for the first time since 2010, making it tougher for would-be Americans