European Allies Get It on Immigration, Why Not America?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on January 16, 2012

A couple of interesting news items recently show that the United Kingdom and France "get it" that importing foreign workers hurts their citizens' economic prospects.

The British Migration Advisory Committee has reported that four non-European immigrants displace a native U.K. worker. The report said 700,000 immigrants over the past five years, of employment age, kept 160,000 Brits from getting jobs. Those lost opportunities occurred largely in information technology, communications, retail, and hospitality. British researchers said a better measure of immigration's effect is economic well-being of native workers, rather than gross domestic product.

France has just reduced legal immigration levels by 10 percent and raised the standards for gaining citizenship. The French changes cut the number of work visas by 20,000.

You'd fail remedial economics not to understand that expanding the supply of something – a good, service, or laborer – tends to bring down the cost of that thing. This can be good or bad. Look, for example, at the price of natural gas. The "fracking" process has made it economically feasible to extract this abundant natural resource. The cost of natural gas has fallen significantly, promising an alternative energy source to relieve American dependence on imported petroleum. That's a good thing.

But artificially pumping up the labor market translates into declining wages, less attractive working conditions, and diminished employee benefits. Where immigration is involved, this pits native workers in direct job competition with foreigners. In the U.S. and European case, many immigrant workers come from relatively less well-off nations, and they are quite willing to undercut native job-seekers. That's a bad thing.

As CIS has indisputably established, this hurts both native and immigrant workers in the U.S. Now European allies are assenting the same phenomenon in their countries.