Migrants don’t harm society, they improve it
There has been a surge in far-right groups and populist politicians driven by an ideology that suggests immigration is an unwelcome development of globalization. The most worrying aspect of this trend is that this fervor is now influencing key policy decisions, as governments increasingly bow to the pressure of raucous, even violent, protests urging an end to the flow of migrants.
As societies, cultures and languages became increasingly mixed in the pursuit of trade, some native-born residents and naturalized citizens have expressed reservations about the constant stream of new arrivals. In extreme cases, anti-immigrant sentiment has turned innocent people into scapegoats for society’s ills — many, if not all, of which have nothing to do with them.
We have failed to find permanent solutions to the propensity for a significant portion of society to indulge in “otherisms,” despite greater economic integration, global cooperation and technological advancements. Now, with extremist ideology echoing in the corridors of power in the West, anti-immigrant sentiment is quickly reshaping policies, laws and norms that were accepted as the standard, despite their flaws.
The oft-repeated justification for a hard-line stance on immigration that migrants are parasites who not only drain assistance programs meant for citizens, but also the job market, education and health care. Additionally, migrants become scapegoats for rising rates of murder, assaults, burglary and trafficking in lives, drugs and arms.
Such outlandish thinking gains traction because migrants often fall into legal gray areas, in which their immigration status disqualifies them from legal representation. This extends to limited access to health care, employment and education, which forces those who arrive to go underground, accepting low-paid jobs or, in some cases, engaging in illegal activities to make enough money to sustain the high cost of living characteristic of developed nations.
The ability to manufacture, maintain, purchase and consume the resultant goods and services is possible only as a result of the sizeable migrant populations in these countries.
From there, the situation spirals out of control as the behavior of a few criminals fuels stereotypes and attitudes about all immigrants, regardless of the widely varying circumstances that drive mass migration.
But are immigrants really to blame for society’s problems? Or are they just convenient scapegoats for the failures of systems burdened by rising public debt, social apathy and political gridlock? The answer to that question, even when looked at from a historical perspective, lies in examining the facts, not the noise.
The United States was once the go-to destination for migrants fleeing violence, persecution and stagnant economies. As a consequence, an entire nation rose to prominence, buoyed not by the indigenous Native American population but by a surge of immigrants, including those forcefully brought on slave ships to the New World to exploit its enormous economic potential.
For a modern case study of the benefits of adopting immigration-friendly policies, look no further than the meteoric rise of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries. They have a combined population of nearly 51.5 million, of whom 49 percent are foreign nationals, though many lack the legal status to formalize their stakes. As a result, the Gulf nations have emerged as formidable economies, with a combined total of $1.5 trillion in nominal Gross Domestic Product, and a per capita income of more than $27,000. Hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in property, infrastructure, industries, transport, tourism and information technology will need sustained demand and consumption to generate sufficient returns, as well as bolster GCC economies, to be on par with the wider developed world in the future. The ability to manufacture, maintain, purchase and consume the resultant goods and services is possible only as a result of the sizeable migrant populations in these countries.
On a global level, this finding from a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute sums up the arguments for the positive impact of migrants: “Migrants added roughly $6.7 trillion to global GDP in 2015 — some $3 trillion more than they are projected to have produced had they stayed in their countries of origin.” It goes on to estimate that “in 2015, immigrants generated some $2 trillion in the United States, $550 billion in Germany, $390 billion in the United Kingdom, $330 billion in Australia, and $320 billion in Canada.”
Clearly, therefore, it is high time for a look at the immigration issue through a new lens, free from populist politics and hyperbole.
Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advance International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell