We Should Open Our Eyes to a Wider Set of Migration Issues

By David North, October 9, 2012

One of the troubles with those of us who focus on immigration policy in the United States is that we think almost exclusively about migration to this country, and forced migration (deportation) out of it. I must admit to being guilty of those narrow thought processes most of the time.

There are two other subjects, however, that should get more consideration than they get:

  • Voluntary departures from the United States of both citizens and aliens, the subject of today's blog, and
  • Immigration control techniques used by other democracies, to be dealt with later.

I was reminded, albeit indirectly, of the social utility of emigration the other day when I read that Canada has sent its immigration minister to Ireland to seek more workers for the Canadian economy.

Now, as the old line goes, some of my best friends are Irish, but why don't we push the Canadians to save the airfare, and do their recruiting south of the border?

A few jobs in Canada, after all, can be filled by Americans walking across the border, many others by Americans driving across the border, and the rest by Americans moving across the line. With 12 million or so unemployed Americans, and Canada looking for no more than a million workers (my rough guess) why should they look on the other side of the pond?

Further, over and beyond the worker provisions of NAFTA, the two nations' unemployment insurance systems have been linked for generations. If you lose a job in Canada, and move back to the United States, and are still unemployed, you can collect unemployment benefits here, and vice-versa.

Why has the U.S. government not been pressing Canada on this issue, or not doing so publicly?

There are a series of not very impressive reasons. First, there is the matter of false pride and "American Exceptionalism" — we do not want to admit that another nation could help us with our unemployment problem. Second, my assumption is that the Democratic administration in Washington is not very friendly to the Conservative government in Ottawa, and vice-versa.

And, more fundamentally, America never thinks in terms of the benefits of emigration and our policies routinely ignore the subject. Some think, as I do, that we have too many people, many more think we have too many workers for the jobs we have; a limited exodus of people and workers would ease the situation for those remaining.

While our public policies do not effectively limit the export of jobs, and do effectively encourage the importation of foreign workers (both on temporary and permanent bases) they are not designed to help our own workers find jobs in other countries.

In addition to protecting the border, cutting back the nonimmigrant worker programs, and deporting illegal aliens, we should do what we can to encourage our workers (both legal aliens and citizens) to take jobs elsewhere if they can get them. I know this will be heresy to some.

We might use our Jobs Service offices to match workers here with openings in Canada; we might offer small loans (perhaps against future Social Security or unemployment insurance benefits) to fund short visits to Canada for selected U.S. job seekers; and take similar creative steps, all, one hopes, in cooperation with the Canadian government.

There probably would be some receptivity north of the border; Alberta, at one point, was looking for people who did not have jobs but had qualified for the H-1B program. Alberta, thanks to oil sands and other natural resources, is a particularly prosperous part of Canada these days.

In addition to the prospect of some currently unemployed American workers leaving the country for a while, I have previously suggested ways to encourage legal aliens now in the United States to retire their homelands when they reach an appropriate age — thus saving taxpayers substantial sums. These suggestions were spelled out in two earlier emigration blogs here and here