Other English-Speaking Nations Move to Reduce International Migration

By David North on August 7, 2014

In the years since 2012, other English-speaking nations have taken a variety of approaches to reducing international migration, and/or to making it more selective, a CIS survey has shown.

The nations taking these steps are Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Australia.

These policy changes, all quite precise in character, have been designed to reduce the importation of poverty on one hand, and to reduce the sale of visas on the other; other moves relate to treating temporary alien workers more fairly (and thus decreasing their attractiveness to greedy employers) and in narrowing situations in which foreign students can abuse the system.

The governments of these four nations are now in the hands of conservative parties, though they bear more resemblance to the views of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Many of the changes are nuanced, and the results of changed regulations, not changed laws. An annotated listing of 15 of these policy modifications follows as a table.

Perhaps the best example of the efforts to reduce the importation of poverty is the UK decision that a resident must have an income or about US$32,000 a year in order to bring in his or her spouse as an immigrant.

While there is a nominal bar in our immigration law against the admission of low-income aliens who might become "public charges" (i.e., welfare dependents), our rules are neither enforced with anything like vigor, nor is there an easy-to-understand qualification, such as the sponsor's income (presumably reflected in an income tax filing).

As a matter of fact, the most recent annual report from the U.S. Visa Office (Table XX) shows that there was a net of only 170 successful public charge denials in FY 2013, out of a total of 473,115 immigrant visa issuances. There was a larger number of initial denials, but most were wiped out in the appeals process. A would-be immigrant's chance of being denied a visa on public charge grounds was thus one in 2,783.

At the other end of the economic scale, both Canada and the UK tackled the question of the sales of visas to alien investors. Canada simply abolished its immigrant investor program as "making little economic sense" for the society as a whole, while the Brits insisted that a certain class of immigrant investors must, in fact, be running their own business, not working for anyone else.

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The American EB-5 investors, on the other hand, need not be managing anything; the program is designed for passive investors, with $500,000 giving an alien a family-sized set of green cards if the investment stays in place for a few years.

As for better (and more expensive) treatment of temporary foreign workers New Zealand now insists on the equivalent of US$16.14 an hour payments to foreign workers and Australia no longer allows employers of foreign workers to force the workers to pay transportation and other migration-related fees.

In contrast, our national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and some temporary foreign workers are paid little more than that; further, some of our foreign worker programs, such as the summer work and travel program run by the U.S. Department of State, force the foreign workers to pay fees and airfares.

Regarding more careful selection of incoming foreign students, New Zealand has decided that a whole class of low-ranking schools can no longer facilitate visas for foreign students, and Australia ruled that student applicants from nations whose students had high drop-out rates would get closer scrutiny than those from other nations.

Meanwhile in the United States, all potential foreign students get the same level of scrutiny and low-ranking institutions can easily cause the admission of students from overseas, as we pointed out in a recent Backgrounder.

Not all the immigration policy changes by these four nations were commendable, however. For example, New Zealand decided that visitors from China, who had strong frequent flyer credits with Air New Zealand, deserved a lower level of scrutiny for visas than others. I would not farm out any part of immigration screening even to a largely government-owned corporation.

Recent Immigration Policy Changes by English-Speaking Countries
Category Country Change
Family Australia (2014) Changed a rule such that low-income people old enough to collect a pension could no longer receive a family migration visa.
Family UK (2012) Required visa sponsors to earn at least roughly $32,000 per year in order to sponsor a family member to come to the UK.
Investor Canada (2014) Ended the program that allowed people to invest roughly $760,000 in Canada in exchange for a visa because the program made "little economic sense".
Investor UK (2014) Changed immigrant investor working requirements to make sure people are running their own businesses, not working for someone else; and investors must only get funding from UK government-approved sources.
Migrant UK (2014) Changed immigration laws to make it easier for illegal immigrants to be deported (reduction of number of appeals), harder to live in the UK (immigration status checks), and to make it more difficult for migrants to access public benefits.
Student Australia (2013) Altered student visa program so that students from high-risk countries have a harder time getting visas and vice-versa for immigrants from low-risk countries.
Student UK (2014) Changed for students from low-risk countries - they are no longer exempt from creditability interviews. Also increased financial requirements for students.
Student New Zealand (2013) Stopped issuing visas to low-ranked New Zealand schools.
Worker Canada (2014) Changed the law regarding foreign low-wage workers, making it harder for companies to hire them in areas with high unemployment.
Worker New Zealand (2014) Employers are now required to pay roughly $16.14/hour to migrant workers.
Worker UK (2012) A government agency suggested a gradual reduction in skilled job visas to reduce net migration.
Worker UK (2014) Reduced duration of unemployment benefits, from six to three months, for European migrants.
Worker UK (2011) Imposed work restrictions on potential workers from Bulgaria and Romania for an additional two years.
Worker Australia (2013) Banned sponsors from collecting any migration costs or fees from potential alien skilled workers.
Worker New Zealand (2013) Required employers in earthquake region to post potential jobs on government website before they can offer a job to a migrant.

The author is grateful to Malcolm Richards, a CIS summer intern, for his research assistance.