Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, September 18, 2006

An excellent Sebastian Mallaby op-ed about immigration. Excerpt:

[A] development-friendly migration debate would sound different from the current one. Immigration advocates in the rich world feel most comfortable making the case for allowing in skilled workers. Skilled migrants, however, trigger the biggest brain-drain concerns; allowing in unskilled workers does more to reduce global poverty. Equally, immigration advocates tend to want arriving workers to assimilate. But the best way to promote development is to allow a rolling cohort of poor workers to amass savings and experience -- and then return to their own countries.

If the United States offered Mexico a million temporary work visas, it could attach conditions. It could stipulate that these workers be recruited by agencies in Mexico, which would screen candidates for criminal records, require minimal English skills -- and ensure repatriation. The agencies could do that, for example, by withholding some of the migrants' pay until they returned home. An agency that failed to bring people back could be ejected from the program.

Enforcing repatriation would still require tough government action. The United States would have to decide what to do about migrants who marry Americans, which is one obvious way in which temporary guests turn permanent. Singapore deals with this problem by denying guest workers the right to marry citizens. That is beyond the pale, you say? But if desperately poor migrants accept the no-marriage condition in exchange for a visa, who are we to second-guess them?

You don't have to be that harsh. Just "Don't Restrict Immigration, Tax It," as I argued back in June.

Mallaby's article was inspired by a recent book by my old prof Lant Pritchett. It's called "Let Their People Come."


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