Gary Becker was right, part four: Immigration

Gary Becker proposed a remarkable  way of dealing with immigration.  He suggested selling the right to live and work in the US or the UK.  His proposal was that the countries should set a price ($50,000, for example), and admit foreigners prepared to pay it.  Of course certain categories such as terrorists or criminals would be excluded, but otherwise the doors would be open to those prepared to stump up the money.

His reasoning was that this would lead to the type of immigrants of most value to the recipient country.  Skilled people would be ready to pay because they would enjoy a bigger pay differential in moving from a poor country to a rich one than would poorer people.

Young people would be attracted because they would enjoy longer working lives in which to reap the benefit of their investment.  And those intending to settle permanently and make a commitment to the host country would have a longer time there to enjoy the benefits than those who intended to return to their own country.  All three categories make desirable immigrants.

Whether or not one agrees with the details, it is easy to agree with Becker on the principle that immigration should be encouraged where it is certain to make a positive contribution to the host country as well as to the immigrant.  Several countries already have schemes in place to achieve this.  St Kitts and Nevis offers citizenship as well as residence to those investing $250,000 in sugar industry diversification or $400,000 into real estate.  Dominica offers citizenship for an investment of $100,000.  The US will give a green card to someone investing $500,000 and creating 10 jobs for Americans, and Canada will let you in for 400,000 Canadian dollars.

The Becker proposal does deal with the objection that some raise about immigrants coming in and claiming welfare and health benefits.  The objection seems unlikely, in that most immigrants are young and healthy and seeking work, but we can be reasonably sure that no claimants would be coming in under Becker-type rules.  Many who oppose immigration are ready to make exceptions for skilled workers and those prepared to invest in their host country.  International businesses might well stump up the money required for them to transfer in skilled workers with none of the hassle and delays of conventional applications.

Once again Becker has shown how economics can be applied to areas other than the economy.