American Triumph, European Failure

Fareed Zakaria’s excellent comparison between European and American immigration policies gives the price to the United States.

It’s true. American immigration policy bests France and Germany easily.

Driven by petty jealousy and fear, Germans have been unable to attract tech workers from India. But Germany does have plenty of underpriviliged immigrants from the former East bloc and Africa. Those people are so poor that they will not be deterred by draconian laws or a weak economy.

The best qualified individuals, however, have options. As Zakaria points out they will not leave their home countries and their families to be discriminated until the end of their days. A generous immigration policy attracting the best and the brightest, is one of America’s most important advantages over her global competitors. It drives what America is best at: innovation.

Criminalizing foreign students and researchers when they get married or their visas lapse on technicalities and bureaucratic delays will only induce the best and the brightest to go to Canada or Australia. The latter two get it. They have already taken advantage of a less attractive America and recruited talent that was deterred by immigration reform after September 11.

Researchers will be less willing to invest their life time if they are told that they can only stay a few years. That’s why it would be a mistake to establish a Kennedy-McCain guestworker program. The Germans have tried it and failed. They have not learned from it. May be, Americans can learn the lessons of history better.

French and German attitudes to foreign talent are driven by arrogance, insecurity, and jealousy. It’s a model that pleases their passions but does not serve their interests.

Americans would do well to check passion and calculate the effect of any immigration reform on their interests. That does not mean that nothing can be done about illegal immigration. But knee jerk reactions driven by anger will only make things worse.

The best and the brightest do not come here to get criminalized. They come to the United States in pursuit of their talents and their future. A guest worker program that will deport them soon, cannot meet their needs. Their loss is our loss when the American economy looses top personnel.



  1. Hellmut,This is a great post. Thanks. I wonder, can you tell us whether Germany is aware of this problem? I mean, you’re German, but how does your expat perspective aid things? What’s the word on the “German Street” about immigration?


  2. The German street is afraid.Fear of freedom is at the root of the French and German malaise, not only with respect to immigration. The economies are overregulated. As a result, it is difficult for newcomers to innovate. Newcomers include foreigners, the young, or simply anyone who wants to do things differently.By the way, those of who peak German may want to read former chancellor < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Helmut Schmidt’s<> speech to the Social Democats in parliament.Anyways, the street is only angry. They are not willing to embrace change, be it foreigners or a more dynamic economy.


  3. Hellmut,Actually Zakaria’s commentary in the post was at most a B graduate school paper.The tech workers who get the Green Card with the automatic path to citizenship after 5 years hold the equivalent of bachelor’s or master’s degrees in electrical engineering or computer science.The vast majority of illegal immigrants at issue only have 6th grade educations. Even Paul Krugman agrees these people are a net drain on our society.So the whole basis of the first half of his article is simply wrong.Then there is the second half of his article. To address the income disparity between the U.S. and Mexico, we need to put intense pressure on Mexico to reduce corruption and adopt policies that will stimulate economic activity.We have transferred thousands and maybe millions of jobs to Mexico, and Mexico has guaranteed oil and gas revenues which are booming right now due to the high cost of energy. There is no excuse for Mexico to be poor. We need to force Mexico to address its chronic and disgraceful problems.Deporting all 11.5 million illegals ($230 billion) is still cheaper than the cost of educating the children of illegal immigrants, which would run about $880 billion! We can probably build a wall too and still have money left over. Not that I advocate deportation, but I just want an accurate discussion.It cost in the year 2000 a nationwide average of $7,300 per year to educate a child in the United States public schools. So a K-12 education is going to cost on average, $80,000. [(I found a reputable website that said that was a USDE figure, but I can’t find that USDE study). I do know New York City spends over $12,000 per student. So an average of $7,300 sounds correct.]Now assume that there those 11.5 million illegals have a fertility rate that allows them to replace their numbers. If there are 11 million children to be educated and it costs $80,000 to provide a person with a quality education in the U.S., that is a $880 billion cost to educate these people. And there is no hope that they will pay enough in taxes to cover the costs of education, health care, sanitation and police protection.


  4. Anon,I am curious about your figures. How did you come to the $230 billion number for deportation? Is that just the cost of legal fees, physical transport, etc.? Or does it include the inevitable rise in grocery prices that will accompany such a move?


  5. Actually, Zakaria’s last paragraph accounts for the poverty refugees when he points out that they are the result of the greatest contiguous income differential in the world.As I said, regardless of policy poverty refugees will penetrate wealthy societies. It’s like gravity.The problem with discriminatory policies is that they affect the immigrants who need to be here legitimately disproportionately. If you are starving then you will come regardless. If you need to protect your investment, be it money or expertise, then you require legitimacy.When legitimacy becomes a rare commodity as in Germany rather than a public good as in the United States then you are going to loose college educated immigrants.


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