Britain: More economists or grief-counsellors? My answer to the immigrant dilemma

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Oct 24 13:49:40 UTC 2006

>>From The Times October 24, 2006

More economists or grief-counsellors? My answer to the immigrant dilemma
Irwin Stelzer

THE GOOD NEWS is that the Government has realised finally that
unrestricted immigration is not a viable policy. The bad news is that John
Reid thinks he can figure out just which immigrants can add to Britains
prosperity, and which wont. The Home Secretary will outline his policy on
restricting emigrants from Bulgaria and Romania today. It is likely that a
panel of business leaders and bureaucrats will then attempt to predict the
nations needs. Such a bureaucracy will import huge inefficiencies into
Britains labour market, and seriously disadvantage the nation in the
interests of big business.

To devise an immigration policy is no easy thing. Start with the
economics. An ample supply of labour is in the interests of employers, but
threatens jobs and wage levels particularly of workers with no or minimal
skills. Then there are the social issues: the pressure of sheer numbers on
this still-green and pleasant land; the effect on the native culture of a
large number of immigrants with different customs and values entering a
country in which tolerance has mutated into multiculturalism; the pressure
newcomers impose on the social services. Finally, we have a new fear: that
Islamofascist terrorists will arrive, intent on mayhem. Here are the
policy choices. Choice number one would be an open-door, humanitarian
policy. But this fails to address legitimate concerns about overcrowding,
burdens on the social services, welfare scroungers, dangers to the
existing culture and terrorists. Choice number two is a slammed-door
policy, based on the notions that immigrants represent a net drain on
Britains resources, and that immigration dilutes its values, customs and
mores. That, too, has difficulties, as the composition of the labour force
in the construction and hospitality industries, and the rich historic
contribution of immigration to Britains culture, make obvious.  Choice
number three is based on economic self-interest: admit those immigrants
likely to maximise the wealth of the native population.

The Government is considering plans to have its bureaucrats sit down with
the nations corprocrats, and set up a point system that will give entry
permits to those with the highest scores. In Australia such a system quite
sensibly assigns 50 per cent more points to a chef than to a real estate
salesperson, but proves its fallibility by assigning the same number of
points to a grief counsellor as to the clearly more valuable category,
economist! A system that relies on bureaucrats judgments will, quite
naturally, favour people just like them, but not immigrants who arrive
seeking work in the hospitality industries. Get corprocrats involved, and
guess whether large or small businesses will get the workers they need.

The point system, by granting points for language skills and education,
also has a bias against those wanting to assimilate but who have not had
the opportunity to learn a second language in their countries of origin.
Let me at this point declare an interest: such a rule would have prevented
my Yiddish and Polish-speaking father from entering America. More
important, such a rule would bar Mexicans seeking to work and to
assimilate, while admitting well-educated, English-proficient Saudis
planning to fly airliners into the World Trade Centre. Moreover, a system
that grants points for certain skills is very difficult to administer.
Australia has a list of 247 skilled occupations, many vaguely defined.
This leaves civil servants charged with administering this system much
leeway; an invitation to the sort of corruption that has already plagued
the immigration service.

An English-speaking, highly educated immigrant is likely to earn more
points. But will he certainly add more to national income than an
unskilled worker? After all, the nation might already be overpopulated
with English-speaking grief counsellors who earn points on both counts,
and woefully short of people whose language skills are minimal but are
willing to empty bedpans in hospitals or dig foundations for new homes and
factories. The solution to all these problems lies in a four-phase policy.
First, limit those allowed in to those most likely to enrich the nation.
Secondly, allocate the available places to those who will be the largest
net contributors to British economic life. Thirdly, require the
beneficiaries of immigration to share their gains with those who bear the
costs. Fourthly, bar immigration from countries noted for producing

How, then, do you balance the economic goal, while at the same time
meeting the legitimate social concerns? Answer: rely on the market to
determine which sorts of workers are needed, and insist on the attainment
of language skills and other tools of assimilation as a requirement for
permanent leave to remain or citizenship. But first, deny welfare benefits
to immigrants in order to discourage the lazy and the incompetent from
seeking entry, and reduce some of the opposition to immigration by those
who bear the cost of immigrants who are unwilling or unable to work. Such
a policy cannot be applied with complete success. But we cant let the
perfect be the enemy of the good.

Further, rely on the market to identify those immigrants who are likely to
make a net addition to the wealth of the nation. That can be accomplished
by a market-driven system of bidding for immigration visas: the workers
likely to make the greatest contribution to Britain, and to their
employers, would enter the highest bids. Such a bidding system will prove
more efficient in identifying those who will make a net contribution to
their new country than will even the most refined bureaucrat-based system,
and it need not disadvantage potential immigrants who have no money, since
employers would be willing to put up the funds necessary to bid for a
permit. Such a system allows the Government to insist that employers and
employees who benefit from immigration compensate those who bear its
costs. The funds paid for tickets conveying the right to immigrate can be
directed to communities in which schools, hospitals and other facilities
are affected adversely by immigration, and to retrain displaced native

Add an absolute bar to applicants from countries that breed terrorists and
you have an immigration policy that will enrich the nation, compensate
those who bear the costs of immigration by charging those who benefit from
it and maximise national security.

Irwin Stelzer is director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute,,6-2418047,00.html


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