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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Open Immigration Is Good for the Health of People and the Economy

Immigrants can help by making services like medical care more readily available.

What do Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Freddie Mercury have in common? They were all refugees who made extraordinary contributions to their fields. Societies who welcome refugees and migrants benefit from their contributions and the jobs they create. Opening our doors to migrants, rather than detaining them on Manus Island or elsewhere, would make us far wealthier.

Detaining Refugees

Australia and the West have a troubled history of dealing with refugees, largely because of community concerns about their impact. From the 80,000 refugee visas issued annually worldwide, Australia grants about 6,000, which is not much compared to the one million displaced refugees worldwide. We’re saving a small suburb’s worth of people while leaving an entire nation’s worth destitute and threatened.

The government discourages refugees from seeking asylum by detaining those who attempt the risky sea voyage from Indonesia to Australia in detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru, built and operated using billions of Australian taxpayer dollars. While 14,000 refugees live in Indonesia, it’s no permanent home: its government bans them from working. Since 2013, detainees are banned from settling in Australia and have refused offers to resettle in its dangerous, unstable neighbor, Papua New Guinea.

Western countries need doctors for their aging populations. Immigrants can help by making medical care more readily available.

The US recently promised to take 1250 refugees, but in the meantime, over 1000 remain detained, including 196 with rejected asylum claims who could be detained permanently. They have been imprisoned for four years and describe themselves as physically and mentally broken. The humane solution is to welcome them, but community fears prevent this from happening.

That’s why it’s important to understand that welcoming refugees would leave us wealthier, as we could benefit from their contributions.

In 1999, Dr. Munjed Al Muderis, an Iraqi refugee, fled Saddam Hussein’s former regime because he refused a command to cut off the ears of Iraqi army deserters. Today, Dr. Al Muderis is an Australian professor in orthopaedics who developed new implant-based prosthetic limbs. Western countries need doctors because of their aging populations. Immigrants can help by making services like medical care more readily available.

Immigrants also create local jobs by opening businesses. One American study finds that immigrants are twice as likely to open businesses. 27.5% of American businesspeople are immigrants, whereas they make up only 13% of its population. Google is now a multi-billion dollar company with 72,000 employees thanks to its refugee co-founder, Sergey Brin. An Australian study indicates that almost 10% of refugees run businesses. Perhaps immigrants often possess entrepreneurial traits because immigration can involve risk-taking, strategic thinking, and hard work.

Immigration and Economic Growth

When there’s a shortage of local workers, immigrants can fill the gap and help local businesses grow. For example, entrepreneur Jonathan Barouch notes that IT businesses face recruitment problems because “technical roles such as software engineers, product managers and user interface and user experience experts are incredibly difficult to fill locally.” Hiring experienced immigrants means they can work with locals and supervise trainees. This saves companies from moving overseas, which benefits local workers and businesses.

The economy does not have a fixed amount of jobs for people to compete for.

Australia’s twenty years of unending economic growth is also partly due to its openness to immigration. Immigrants make up over half of Australia’s population growth for the last two decades and a quarter of its population. The recent Western Australian mining boom, a key contributor to economic growth, was fuelled by immigrant workers which businesses hired to take advantage of increased demand for mining resources. Consequently, one third of Western Australians are immigrants.

Studies have also shown that immigration does not generally affect local unemployment, job security or wages. That’s because the economy does not have a fixed amount of jobs for people to compete for. Immigration increases the number of jobs available because immigrants are new customers for local businesses. This helps businesses grow to meet increased demand for their services.

While immigration increases demand for infrastructure and housing, it also encourages businesses to build more. After all, there would be very little infrastructure and very low living standards if the local population consisted of two men and some tumbleweeds. Rather than cutting immigration, we should encourage more construction to reduce housing prices and infrastructure shortages.

Helping refugees doesn’t have to hit taxpayers’ wallets. For example, Canadian charities have privately funded over two hundred thousand refugees’ long-term living costs over thirty years. One Canadian businessman, Jim Estill, generously gave over $1 million to house over 200 Syrian refugees, provide them with English lessons and help them with setting up businesses so as to reduce reliance on welfare. In principle, anyone should be allowed to privately fund a refugee’s living costs. Refugees could seek asylum without risking unsafe voyages if carrier sanction laws are repealed.

Refugees could also seek asylum without risking unsafe sea voyages if carrier sanction laws are repealed. These laws impose fines on airlines for carrying passengers without visas to Australia, the US and the EU, leading many refugees to drown while sailing on unseaworthy boats. Refugees could simply buy cheap plane tickets if these laws were scrapped.

Opening our doors to immigrants and refugees benefits us, their hosts, and saves them from persecution. We could welcome the next tech giant founder or life-saving surgeon. Welcoming refugees and immigrants is not just humane, it’s good for the economy.

  • Vladimir “Zeev” Vinokurov is an Australian lawyer. The views expressed here are his own.