Misperceptions About Immigration and Support for Redistribution

By Alberto Alesina, Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University, Armando Miano, PhD student in Economics, Harvard University, and Stefanie Stantcheva, Professor of Economics, Harvard University. Originally published at VoxEU

The debate on immigration is often based on misperceptions about the number and character of immigrants. The column uses data from surveys in six countries to show that such misperceptions are striking and widespread. The column also describes how an experiment in which people were encouraged think about their perception of immigrants made them more averse to redistribution in general, suggesting that the focus on immigration in the political debate – without correcting the misperceptions respondents have about immigrants – could have the unintended consequence of reducing support for redistribution.

Immigration has occupied the news in the past weeks. We have seen disturbing images of immigrants suffering on overcrowded and unsafe boats, not far from European ports, while European leaders argued in the media and in all-night meetings over which country should let them in. The US discusses plans for a border wall while we watch heartbreaking images of children taken from their parents at the Mexican border.

On the Statue of Liberty, one can still read:  “Give me your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free“.

But this message seems very far from today’s attitudes to immigration.

Immigration policy is complex and involves economic, political, and moral considerations. Unfortunately, discussions are often not based on facts and data, but on stereotypes and misperceptions.

In a recent study (Alesina et al. 2018) we used commercial market research companies to run a large-scale survey and experiment on a representative sample of more than 22,000 natives in six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, and the US, mostly between January and March 2018. The sample countries were chosen because they have different economic and social systems, but all have recently faced policy challenges around immigration.

We asked respondents detailed questions about how they perceived immigrants, such as how many they thought there were, where they had come from, and their economic circumstances. Following OECD (2015), we defined an immigrant as a foreign-born legal resident of the country. We also elicited natives’ attitudes towards immigrants, and their preferred immigration and redistribution policies.

Some Striking Misperceptions About Immigrants

In five of the six countries, the average native believed that there are between two and three times as many immigrants as there are in reality. For instance, in the US legal immigrants are about 10% of the population, but US respondents thought the figure was 30%. Similar gaps existed in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK. In Sweden, the country with the highest proportion of immigrants, the public perception of 27% was closest to the true share (18%).

Natives also got the origins of immigrants wrong. They particularly overestimated the shares of immigrants coming from regions that have recently been described as ‘problematic’ in the media, and the share of non-Christian immigrants – Christianity being the mainstream religion in their country. In all countries except France, respondents overestimated the share of Muslim immigrants. The US and Sweden had the biggest misperception. In the US, respondents thought the share of Muslim immigrants was 23% when in reality it is 10%, and in Sweden they believed the share was 45%, when it is 27%. In the UK, Italy, and Germany, this overestimation ranged from 10 to 14 percentage points.

In all countries, including France, respondents underestimated the share of Christian immigrants by at least 20 percentage points. For instance, US respondents thought that 40% of immigrants were Christian, when 61% are. UK respondents believed 30% of immigrants were Christian, when the true figure is 58%.

In all countries, immigrants were viewed as poorer, less educated, and more likely to be unemployed than is the case. For instance, US natives believed that 35% of immigrants lived below the poverty line, while the real number is less than 14%. Natives also believed that immigrants relied heavily on the welfare state, with roughly one-third of all US, Italian, and French respondents, and one-fifth of all UK and German respondents, believing that an immigrant would receive more benefits than a native, even if both had exactly same income, family structure, age, and occupation. A large share of respondents also thought that immigrants were poor mainly because of lack of effort, rather than adverse circumstances.

These misperceptions were widely spread across all countries and groups of respondents. They were larger for respondents who are not college educated, who said they supported right-wing parties, or who worked in low-skilled occupations in immigration-intensive sectors. Respondents who personally knew an immigrant had less biased perceptions. But of course, getting to know an immigrant may have been the result of their views on immigration, rather than the cause.

Levels of Support for Immigration and Redistribution Are Positively Correlated

Respondents in all countries also greatly exaggerated the share of immigrants among the poor or the low-educated. For example, US respondents thought that 37% of the poor were immigrants; the true number is 12%.

These skewed perceptions may lead natives to conclude that immigrants are a burden on the public finances of their country, and that they disproportionately benefit from redistribution.

In fact, there is a strong negative correlation between the perceived share of poor who are immigrants and support for redistribution. This was captured by a redistribution support index that summarised the answers to all redistribution-related questions. Respondents who perceived that a larger share of the poor were immigrants supported less redistribution, even controlling for a detailed set of personal characteristics.1Similarly, respondents who supported more immigration overall, as captured by an immigration support index that aggregated the answers to all questions related to attitudes towards immigration, also supported more redistribution.

Making Respondents Think About Immigrants Reduced Support for Redistribution

What are the consequences of these misperceptions? We performed four experiments to establish a causal link between views of immigration and support for redistribution.

In the first, which we called an ‘order experiment’, we randomly inverted the order in which respondents were asked the questions on immigration and the questions on redistribution, without providing any information on immigrants. Respondents who saw the immigration questions first were merely made to think about immigration, and the demographic and economic characteristics of immigrants, before they answered questions on redistribution. These respondents would have naturally taken immigration into account when answering questions about redistributive policies.

It turns out that simply making respondents think about immigrants and their characteristics made respondents much more averse to redistribution. These respondents also decreased their actual out-of-pocket donations to charities that support low-income groups but do not target immigrants.

Our other three experiments involved showing respondents information about the true characteristics of immigrants – their share, their origins, and their work ethic:

  • the first treatment showed the true overall share of immigrants in the country,
  • the second showed the true shares of immigrants coming from different parts of the world,
  • the third tells an anecdote about a day in the life of a hard-working immigrant.

All these informational treatments significantly increased support for immigration policies.

What About Support for Redistribution?

Showing the respondents a day in the life of a hard-working immigrant fostered support for redistribution – confirming the importance of views about effort and ‘deservingness’ of the poor, as highlighted in the case of poor natives in Alesina and Glaeser (2004) and Alesina et al. (2018). But the experiments that showed respondents the true share and origins of immigrants did not generate significantly more support for redistribution.2

We also found that none of these treatments and pieces of information, not even the ‘hard work’ treatment, was able to overturn the decline in support for redistribution that occurred when respondents were asked the immigration questions first. When respondents were made to think about the demographic and economic characteristics of immigrants, their very negative priors dominated in subsequent answers to redistribution questions, even when they also received favourable information about immigrants.

An Important Debate in a World of Misinformation

One implication of our results is that anti-redistribution politicians, even if they were not averse to immigration per se, can focus on immigration to generate a backlash against redistribution. It also means that this focus on immigration in the political debate – without a preceding correction of the striking misperceptions respondents have about immigrants – could have the unintended consequence of reducing support for redistribution, as well as reducing support for more open immigration.

We have not addressed the important question of where the enormous misperceptions of natives have come from. Perhaps the media overwhelmingly emphasises the negative actions of some immigrants – for instance sensational articles on crimes committed or abuses of the welfare system by immigrants. The media rarely writes about the majority of lawful, honest, and hard-working immigrants who contribute to their host country, perhaps because of the nature of news. The information provided may itself be endogenous if the media or policymakers cater to the views of specific audiences, who then look for confirmation of their biases. This vicious circle perpetuates the diffusion of misinformation if it is in the interest of anti-immigration groups to aggravate misperceptions rather than correct them.

Whatever the source of these misperceptions, the debate about immigration today takes place in a world of misinformation.

The problem of immigration is important in many developed countries. It does not have simple solutions. There is no way of magically resolving the global inequalities that contribute to large immigration flows, or to seamlessly integrate millions of economic immigrants in Europe or the US, or to ensure that multi-ethnic communities live together peacefully.

Difficult choices have to be made in all these countries. People may honestly and reasonably disagree on the correct degree of openness to immigration. But these important and much-needed discussions have to be based on reality, not on misperceptions.

See original post for references

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  1. Bill Smith

    “US natives believed that 35% of immigrants lived below the poverty line, while the real number is less than 14%.”

    Is that the poverty line in the US or the poverty line in the country the people came from?

    1. Pym of Nantucket

      I think the answer to that is obvious because you could not have all the data for the poverty lines from all the respective countries of origin.

      1. Jean

        And based on stories in media about the needs of residents in pleas to fund local charities, many immigrants legal and otherwise are living exactly like that. Large numbers of people sharing a house, a kitchen, utility hookups, serving as babysitters for each others kids and sharing vehicles, is not only economical, but damn smart.

        Americans should learn to live this way for thrift. 18-34 year olds living with their parents is a subset of this.

        A typical suburban ranch house with three bedrooms and two baths, once occupied by an American mom and dad and two kids in the 1950s-1980s can house two families or upwards of ten people if living room couches and other areas like garages become living quarters. This is a still a step up from life in Central America. Ten people paying $500 each per month means the landlord is profiting nicely.

        Sure one family could rent the same place, but could they afford $5,000 a month in rent?

        1. Altandmain

          Apart from making landlords rich, why is this even desirable?

          Seems to me like creating an artificial shortage of labor where possible and driving up the wages would be a better option.

          1. 4corners

            Yes, how is this desirable for anyone? Seems like more of a necessity than an ideal.

            These types of living situations cause problems for neighbors as well. For two years, I lived next to a home that had, at last count, four cars, a truck, and a large motorhome that was permanently parked in front of our house (until they finally got ticketed and had to go into rotation).

            These types of pressures are real and they tend to affect lower income areas. I suspect that a lot of resentment for immigrants among “deplorables” is not just xenophobia or racism but has root in something practical.

            1. Arizona Slim

              I live in one of those neighborhoods too.

              Resentment toward immigrants? Check.

              And the people doing the resenting? Yes, some of them are white, but not all. Quite a few of our local people of color aren’t too happy about the parking lots that exist in and around certain houses in our neighborhood.

  2. Louis Fyne

    Like abortion, religion, america can’t have a calm discussion about this. Especially on the Internet

    One reason, almost by definition no one truly knows the levels of illegal/undocumrnted/ non compliant migration. And nearly everyone throwing out numbers has an incentive to fudge the models to further their own agenda

    Author himself sweeps illegal immigration under the rug.

    1. Adam Eran

      …and those obsessed with undocumented immigrants completely ignore the causes, blaming the victims.

      What causes? Between 1798 and 1994, the U.S. was responsible for 41 changes of government south of its borders. The people coming here are economic, political and military refugees. We’ve been responsible for creating them for literally centuries.

      The latest U.S. depredations include NAFTA–such a great idea that after a few months it needed a $20 billion bailout to deal with capital flight that it enabled…prefiguring the Great Recession’s bank bailout (lots of those Mexican banks in trouble were headquartered in the U.S.).

      One might expect shipping a lot of subsidized Iowa corn down south would put some Mexican corn farmers out of business. Sure, corn is only arguably the most important food crop in the world, and those little subsistence farmers were keeping the diversity of the corn genome alive…but they weren’t making any money for Monsanto, darn them!

      So Mexican real incomes declined 34% in the wake of NAFTA. One has to go back to the days of the Great Depression to find that kind of decline in U.S. incomes…and that prompted no great migration!…Oh wait! The Okies!

      Like it or not, the immigration debate, and its near-relatives in xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance, are just other ways to divide and conquer the population.

      1. Louis Fyne

        ‘and those obsessed with undocumented immigrants completely ignore the causes, ‘

        ad hominem alert. see my original observation that you can’t have a calm, boring discussion about migration (or religion, or abortion or poverty or policing, etc.) on the internet.

        but I do agree with your point. American interventionism and Nafta is bad for Mexican farmers and rural people. Tell that to the anti-Trump TV pundits.

      2. georgieboy

        “Like it or not, the immigration debate, and its near-relatives in xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance, are just other ways to divide and conquer the population.”

        Go ask the American Indians how their ancestors should have responded to the Puritans.

        Societies which do not control immigration cease to be those societies. Are we all so deplorable that social suicide is desired?


        Imagine any non-Western police force dealing with immigrants and social friction the way the unlucky commander in this video is required to. He clearly drew the short straw at work, defending the indefensible.

      3. Linus Josef Anton Huber

        @ Adam

        The US-Government may be partially responsible for the situation in many of the problematic countries. Yet, it is simply not correct, to put the full blame of the missmanagement on foreign influence. The so called western countries are not successful simply on the back of those countries but due to a culture that is based on rationality as a result of the period of Enlightenment. To simply blame ourselves is hardly the proper way to look at the situation even though it is practiced with abundance by many who believe to possess intellectual and moral superiority compared the the rest of fellow citizens. This study is indeed motivated by the idea of perceived superiority and its conclusion supports their goal of a borderless world.

    2. Alex

      That’s a very good point!

      Ultimately this shows that this misconception does not matter: even after learning the true percentage the attitude did not change

    3. JohnM

      Exactly. Why quote a number for legal immigrants below the poverty line when it’s likely the undocumented immigrants that are the bulk of the poor who might use social services?

      1. marym

        Or possibly unlikely

        Depending on the state, undocumented immigrants, DACA immigrants (a.k.a. DREAMers), H-1B workers, and other temporary workers can immediately apply for food assistance available for pregnant women, and in most states, free or reduced-price lunches for kids in school are provided regardless of immigration status.

        But these immigrants do not qualify for the vast majority of public benefits — including food stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. That’s true even though undocumented immigrants contribute billions of dollars to these programs.

        Even green card holders, who are permanent residents of the US, have to wait five years to qualify for nearly all social welfare programs. There are a few exceptions, including immigrants who served in the US military or are disabled.

        The only groups of newcomers who can enter the United States and immediately receive social assistance are refugees and asylum seekers. Even then, some benefits —like cash assistance — require refugees to work to continue receiving the benefit.

        A 2015 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for limited immigration, concluded that 50 percent of immigrant-led households used at least one public benefit, compared to 30 percent of American-led households.

        But as researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute point out, the main reason for the difference is that immigrant households tend to be larger than American households, and are therefore more likely to have children, including American-born children who are eligible for some benefits.

        1. Louis Fyne

          not trolling you. just pointing out…at the state/local level it’s much different.

          local EMS is not immigration means-tested (at least in my neck of the woods),
          local free public health services (clinics, vaccinations, child wellness, etc.) is not immigration means-tested,
          local school enrollment is not immigration means-tested, etc.

          Now the question becomes are the numbers large or noticeable but small? Would the plight of native poor be different if these resources were allocated to them?

          I don’t know. No one does. For such a polarizing topic, there are gaping factual gaps re. dollar amounts and number of people involved.

            1. marym

              Adding re “the plight of the urban poor”

              Corporations moved their jobs overseas, big boxes ruined local businesses, governments at every level decided tax breaks to corporations and rich people were more important than infrastructure, schools, public services, or housing, and people keep voting for them. None of those things are the fault of immigrants.

            2. cm

              Many state and local jurisdictions don’t have many undocumented immigrant workers.


              I’m not sure what your point is. I wrote below about how difficult it is for the lower class to get jobs in Phoenix (one of the areas on the pewresearch article). Do they not count?

              DO we not care about unemployed Americans in California, Arizona, etc.?

              Your second link confirms my post below about construction & services. Are we not supposed to care that lower skilled American are being replaced by illegal immigrants?

              Illegal immigrants are a direct threat to those w/ less education and skills.

              Someone else posts about how only the lower class complain about immigration. Not true. Many well educated people in IT complain about H1B abuse, myself included.

              1. marym

                Comments in this post about the differences in impact and visibility of immigration for different classes was good food for thought for me. I’m generally pro-immigration and pro-immigrant rights and don’t always see counter arguments clearly, so thank you for that.

                My point about the distribution was mostly directed at the issue of immigrants receiving benefits from social programs. Given federal rules, (likely, imo) strict state/local rules in many places, geographic distribution, and the paltry nature of many benefits even for those one thinks should receive them, it seems a weak justification for widespread anti-immigrant fervor.

                As I tried to say in the next comment at 1:38 pm, I strongly believe the reason so many people don’t have good jobs and benefits is the same reason we don’t have the good things those jobs would bring – infrastructure, services, etc. – a predatory, for profit-as-the-only-value economic system.

                That’s problem we need to solve – a system designed to transfer wealth to a concentrated few, at the vast expense of everyone and everything else.

        2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Could they contribute more to getting population growth under control?

          “When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Be less likely to have children.”

    4. 4corners

      I was also wondering about the data. I saw the reference to the commercial market research companies but that was for the perception side of the argument. I agree that this issue, in particular, suffers from a lack of data. With perceptions, I suspect a large percentage of respondents edit their views in surveys. And concerning the actual immigrants, they’re inherently hard to measure for a number of reasons.

  3. cm

    What an odd, and precise post. I wonder how he arrives at such precise (14%) numbers, when polling illegal immigrants is not an easy task.

    I wonder what the end-game is. Ask any non-college bound high-school graduate in Phoenix how easy it is to get an entry-level job in the food or construction business. Are we *trying* to prevent low-skilled Americans from getting jobs?

    Illegal immigrants drive down labor costs.\

    How about we fix E-verify so that it actually works, and then terminate some corporations that continue to hire illegals?

    1. Arizona Slim

      The federal government could play a powerful role. If all federal contractors were required to use E-verify, and prove that they weren’t, ahem, engaged in illegal hiring, I think we’d be having a very different discussion.

    2. A marginal man in N. Germany

      What an odd, and precise post. I wonder how he arrives at such precise (14%) numbers, when polling illegal immigrants is not an easy task.

      Indeed, I very much expect they are selecting from a characteristic sub-population.

      The authors’ arguments are much like what was written and said in Germany a few year ago, based on the restricted immigration that was familiar at the time. The subsequent, largely unrestricted immigration is something quite different, and a burden that many understandably do not wish to support – and accurately perceive, they ultimately can not. As someone roughly put it, if you take in half of Calcutta, you do not help Calcutta: you become Calcutta.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Looking back, when I was younger, it seemed half of the virile young men in America wanted to migrate to Stockholm.

        It would have been a bad idea for all involved.

    3. ChrisPacific

      The study is specifically focusing on legal immigrants:

      …we defined an immigrant as a foreign-born legal resident of the country.

      You might argue that leaving out illegal immigrants is missing a large part of the story, but I think there is still value in looking at the legal portion of the immigrant population – for example, for assessing the outcomes of official immigration criteria.

      1. cm

        …we defined an immigrant as a foreign-born legal resident of the country.

        What an odd thing to say after he writes this:

        The US discusses plans for a border wall while we watch heartbreaking images of children taken from their parents at the Mexican border.

        which of course has *nothing* to do with legal immigration. Seems like he wants to talk about illegal immigration, which is what I’ve been discussing. I have *no* issue with legal immigration, other than H1B abuse.

        Also, no mention of the treaty which mandates that Mexico accept the refugees from Central American, instead of allowing them to pass through onto the United States.

        1. Linus Josef Anton Huber

          Exactly, the author has an agenda and is trying to educate the unwashed masses in the sense of a typical IYI (intellectual yet idiot).

  4. Susan the other

    There’s no single solution to immigration because “There is no way of magically resolving the global inequalities that contribute to large immigration flows, or to seamlessly integrate millions of economic immigrants… or to ensure that multiethnic communities live together peacefully.” What baloney. And also too, just exactly what do these guys mean by “redistribution”. Of what? Of the migrants themselves, say for seasonal work, or for wink-wink illegal sweat shops; or do they mean a redistribution of wealth so that the already poor and disenfranchised in America can fight with migrants over the crumbs? Labor arbitrage is hard to see when you have a vested interest. So who causes this misinformation about migrants? Oh gosh, we just don’t know; “we think it is the people who benefit from misinformation.” No shit sherlock. Why no mention of the 800 lb gorilla: labor law. If immigration were legal and properly processed then labor laws would have to apply. And let’s not go off on all the kleptocrat sleazeballs in their countries of exit – you know, the ones in cahoots with our sleazeballs. Let me guess, Larry Summers consulted on this rag. Harvard at its best. Just gag me.

    1. hemeantwell

      Good points, and why the Abolish ICE demand should be more on the order of “Abolish ICE and Build International Labor Solidarity.” The experiment results are kinda interesting, but the priming linkages they claim to discover would be moot if a political analysis and program adequate to the problem were more broadly argued, bringing the sleazeballs into view.

  5. pictboy3

    I was under the impression most Euro countries don’t collect data on the religious and ethnic make-up of their populations, including recent immigrants. Is that not the case? And if that is the case, how did the authors conclude that people were overestimating immigrant numbers?

  6. NJ

    Sadly, even the (comparatively civilised) argument in the comments section here merely reinforce the notion that individuals interpret (or question) statistics in order to support their natural biases. In other words: you cannot win a visceral argument with statistics.

    I would propose the author is giving too much benefit of the doubt to the people who brought up the immigration debate in the first place— the only time people bring up an “immigration debate” is if they’re trying to convince you that foreign criminals are trying to invade your country and take your jobs. (In other words: demagoguery 101.)

    I say this because you’ll notice whenever anyone is pro immigration, they use a very different dialogue, involving terms like “we need more talent” or “we want to bring in the best minds in the world to work for us.”

    1. Richard Kline

      You cannot ‘win’ an argument with statistics, but they are an essential starting point because they indicate the parameters of the possible even if they do not nail down the probable with precision. When we find that, say, responders overestimate the number of a particular group by 100%, perceiving twice as many as the parameter order of those documented, one can grasp that the perception is materially false, and needs to be addressed by a different explanation.

      Bias is the strong implication of the drift of the misperceptions presented in the material of the post. Illegal immigration is insufficient to shift the parameter value by enough to render the misperceptions within a viable range. It is particularly telling that the, shall we say skewed perceptions are uniformly in the direction of bias also. More immigrants of problematic groups; more poverty; more shiftless; drawing on public resources more than in actual fact. Conversely, the consistent underperception of putatively non-problematic groups is an interesting control. Even supposing that those groups, too, see a relevant level of ‘illegal’ immigration—which is a realistic assumption—they are noticed half or less of their actual presence. The bias can be reasonably inferred as a first hypothesis as a consequence of a hyper-awareness of groups viewed as ‘problematic.’ Etc., etc.

      Faced with a context or issue one dislikes, one can factually contend with that issue or make shit up. Anti-immigrant perspectives very consistently makes things up. This isn’t new. It’s 300 years old. It is a worldview, not a realistic interpretation. There are actually problematic issues involved with migration patterns around the world. But what is not problematic is the conclusion that those most uncomfortable with immigration are consistently unable to think about those issues in a factual manner. That’s not to say that a given conclusion is right or wrong, but it is to say that the Big No is not factually valid. And never has been.

      1. For_Christs_ Sake

        I can reliably demonstrate your argument to be 14% (+/-2%) fallacious, where others, on an average, would typify it as high as 37%

  7. Eureka Springs

    Is the US ‘planning’ on unfettered population growth? Do we want to be India or China? I personally think 325 mil is more than enough. 200 mil or less, much better. And over the next hundred years or so wont we be moving a significant portion of our population inland?

    1. John k

      Country mostly empty when Statue of Liberty erected, now cities that didn’t exist then are crowded.
      Natives at the bottom see the intense competition from desperate people mostly from south of the border, naturally resentful, voted trump because he was only candidate promising change… much as earlier millions voted for Obama’s hope and change. And different dress, facial hair, skin color and religion make some immigrants stand out, likely explaining perception is of more immigrants than exist. More so in Europe, where most immigrants share most of the apparent differences.
      Globalization benefitted me because my career ended before competition from foreigners hit engineering while receiving the benefit of low cost goods. Different now, competition rising up the food chain into the top 20%, eventually will reach the 9.9%.
      Dems are out of touch on many issues, but not least on globalization and immigration… dem elites still in favor of more of both because donors… more people means lower wages and higher profits. Course, gop is the same, but trump will gain popularity if he builds his wall.

  8. Tomonthebeach

    By far the largest knowledge gap regarding immigration to the US is how easy it is to apply for residence.

    Most Americans have a vague idea that you go to the US border, fill out a form like your airline customs declaration, and then wait a few weeks to be issued a visa.

    In actuality, the process is looong and tortuous. The application process starts at the US embassy or consulate in the immigrant’s country. You submit proof of birth, crime-free life, marital and family status, income, education and training, and much more than you would share with your father confessor if Catholic. You explain your reason for immigrating (good luck with that). Unless a US university has accepted you for study, or a major corporation wants to hire you (at below-standard wages) and represent you legally with their lawyers, your student or H1B work visa is DOA at CIS. Once the visa’s expire – home you go, unless you have held an H1B long enough (quite a few years) and your employer (and their lawyers) will sponsor you for permanent residency. This means being essentially a corporate indentured employee for 6+ years. Speaking fluent English is critical, and lawyers are involved – $$ to pay them too. Can you apply without a lawyer? Technically yes. Just ask any of 10s of thousands of people who applied on their own, who, having given up hope, still live in the country in which where they were born.

    Here is a personal story. Suppose you want to marry a foreigner. The process is like Prom night on steroids. For them to enter the US to marry you, you must apply for a K1 (I am not making this up) “fiance” visa. Both of you must present at the fiance’s US embassy, submit reams of forms, affidavits, police reports, numerous photos of you two being a happy couple socially, and then wait to be invited back for an interview. Once that is done, the US citizen goes home, hires a lawyer, submits more forms and legal proofs that they are upstanding citizens and that they can afford to support their spouse (no welfare freeloading!), and submit that package to CIS. Then, as we did, sit and wait 14 months for CIS to get to your application, before getting a visa green light, so your fiance can pad back down to their US embassy, submit more forms, and get a 90-day fiance visa to enter the US to marry you. You have a brief period in which to submit a copy of your marriage license, then submit more paperwork, before a green card is issued, usually after yet another CIS interview. The cost in legal fees up until then? $14,000 for us. Then, after 2 years of marriage, to prove that you did not just marry for free citizenship, you must reapply for a permanent spousal green card. You have to produce your last two IRS “joint” returns (in entirety), along with 30 other documents and affidavits from neighbors that you are living together along with numerous pictures of the happy couple in public (hope you take lots of pictures), copies of 9 months of joint bank and other financial statements, joint insurance policies, joint everything but, well, joints. $4,000 more in legal fees. Then after a year, if your spouse wishes, they may apply for citizenship. That too is probably more forms and legal fees. Thus, marriage is a very expensive, 4 to 5-year process.

    Well, Joe Sixpack might assert, your spouse might be one of those less desirable Trump “losers” from some “shithole country.” Nope, Suma Cum from a US University, fluent in English, home country is in Eastern EU. But Joe watches FoxNews religiously and retorts: “Yea, but probably a BA in Romanian antiquity or some other degree we do not need.” Nope! BS in Computer software engineering.

    So, next time you hear about immigration, think of my story. Then, imagine being a female farm worker whose husband was shot dead by revolutionaries. You speak no English, have no US lawyer, no documents of any kind, and could not afford one anyway. What chance do you think they would have if they went to the border and applied for entry today? You’d cross the border illegally and take your chances like any other rational person under the circumstance.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Every border crosser’s story is unique.

      You get tragic ones, and you get vengeful ones.

    2. ChrisPacific

      Very similar to my experience (I was the foreigner, my spouse was the American). It was easier because (a) I was already in the US legally on another visa and (b) we were already married. I then had to submit an I-485 (painful, but nothing like as bad as the K1 process you described) to change to provisional permanent resident status and the rest of it was the same as in your example. I did it myself with no legal help, which kept the costs down to the application fee and the (considerable) tax on time. There is still a tax on time even if you have legal help, as you will need to run around assembling all the documentation they need.

      The point remains that even if you have a legal avenue for immigration, it’s rarely a practical option unless you are wealthy. Even then there are bottlenecks at various points in the process and they may be different depending on things like country of origin, so you might find that you are eligible for immigration but have to wait 10 years (yes, years) for the paperwork to process, for example.

  9. Jesper

    This seems surprising to me:

    The media rarely writes about the majority of lawful, honest, and hard-working immigrants who contribute to their host country, perhaps because of the nature of news.

    If anything the anecdotes in the media are almost always about the lawful, honest and hard-working immigrants. The news tend to be cherry-picking the best of the immigrants to report on, whether or not the best is a true representation might be debated. Anecdotes are not data and if the reported anecdotes are not representative then it can lead to less trust in media.

    As for redistribution…. Would wealth be redistributed from the wealthy or from the poor to support immigrants?

  10. polecat

    “Do we want to be India or China?”

    Just think of All Those Fresh Democrat Voters !!!

  11. davjee

    The Pew trust says that as of 2015 13.9% of US is foreign born plus 11.9% second generation, about
    26% total, one out of 4. Not so far from the survey estimate of 30%.

  12. lou strong

    Mmmh, Alesina,one of the neoliberal fathers of the concept and policy of expansive austerity, and I said it all. As for me, unable to make researches, but able to talk to people in flesh and bone, I’ll share some personal impression on the ground. The anti-immigrant, xenophobic, whatever , attitude grows or at least is more openly expressed the more you go deep into the lower classes. The gap between real and perceived numbers about immigration is partially due to the fact that local and immigrant lower classes share the same urban settlements areas, ie in lower class neighbourhoods the real immigrant numbers are very close to the so-high and “misperceived” ones. The “mysterious” link between anti-immigrant and anti-redistribution attitude could appear less hard to understand once you hear with your ears that not every redistribution is opposed , but only the one in favour of immigrants : Jester is very close to truth in his last statement, it’s a long time that it’s been kind of repeated, to local people ” there’s less and less for you,we can’t help it, but the less that is left for you,this you must be so kind to share with others ” . So the recorded attitude could be despicable, but not at all surprising in a land in which the policies sponsored by Alesina have been largely implemented , with high unemployment, cuts on welfare ,shrinking middle class, anti-workers rights laws, etc etc.Our nice professor supported the war of the have-nots and then studies it.

    1. J Sterling

      [Skynet problems]

      They keep making the Cookie Joke, but the real punchline is: rich man takes all the cookies but one, then says “don’t be such a racist, share your cookie with that immigrant!”

  13. Bernard

    competition for jobs/lowering the working class’s income is why so called Natives don’t like immigrants or immigration.
    If the Rich had to pay for immigration/immigrants, there would be no immigration at all.

    Divide and Conquer works

  14. Unna

    Virtue Signalling on migration issues by people posturing as progressives (abolish ICE, and then what, open borders?) may not be the best way to win an election. And may be a put off to immigrants who have come to a country legally and now are citizens who vote. Take Ontario Canada’s recent provincial election where the Conservative Doug Ford won with lots of support from the immigrant community. Doug Ford is the grotesque Canadian version of Donald Trump, only without any of Trump’s personal charm and obvious charisma…. Ford, brother of the late Rob Ford, ran against the provincial Liberal and Trudeau position of letting migrants into the country who cross the Canadian border anywhere other than legal crossing points thereby taking advantage of a loophole in claiming refugee status. Don’t ask for the details. This has flooded migrant services in Toronto to the province’s expense. During the election the Liberals were washed up for many reasons and the Liberal premier essentially conceded the election a week before voting. It was the NDP’s big chance to at least establish a minority government. The NDP is Canada’s “social democratic” party. It ran, however, on a platform of making Ontario a Sanctuary Province thinking that would appeal to immigrant voters and it’s own social progressive base. Well, Doug Ford won a majority government with big support from immigrant heavy areas around Toronto. Immigration is much less controversial here than in the States because Canada has a points system, language and skills requirements etc resulting in very much less friction than south of the border. Children of immigrants score higher on academic achievement tests than native born Canadian children because of that. I know this is going thick into the weeds but here is a quote from a recent Globe and Mail opinion piece:

    While earning him points with the Davos circuit, Mr. Trudeau’s attitude toward the concept of citizenship may prove a great political liability with established immigrants. Having shed years of blood, sweat and tears to earn their Canadian passports, many immigrant voters likely didn’t take kindly to their Prime Minister issuing, via Twitter, an open invitation to the rest of the world to collect theirs at the door.

    There are other reasons why Canadian Tories here appeal to immigrants, “Vote Your Values” and “Your Values are our Values” meaning traditional family values and “Free Enterprise”. Don’t know how relevant this is, but I guess we’ll all see how this plays out in the Fall elections in the States.

  15. Sound of the Suburbs

    The establishment shot themselves in the foot.

    “Immigration will make us all more prosperous”

    Behold, things got worse.

    It didn’t help.

  16. JBird

    My overly long rant looks to be devoured. Rats.

    Here’s a pithier rant.

    I just noticed that the writer has the political economy degree I’m hoping to get, but he’s not using to see what’s right in our collective face; keep hurting people, all the while blaming them for it, while offering them only a set of evil choices to fight back with, don’t be surprised when they choose the wrong evil.

    A lot of supposedly intelligent people, many of them ostensibly highly educated, make great effort to use that intelligence and education to stay dumb and blind.

  17. Richard

    I don’t find these alleged misperceptions all that surprising. The press does an imperfect job, at least here in the US, and probably in most European countries as well, and not many people in any country immerse themselves the details of how many or what the demographic characteristics are of the immigrants who are coming into their country. What I don’t see from this article is what the connection of the results of this survey should be to any evaluation of what the policy should be. The policy should be based on an analysis of what the facts are about immigration as an abstract phenomenon without respect to its racial or ethnic or other demographic composition as well as what are values are, including compassion. The effects on the environment of a country, as well as the economy both short term and long term should be taken into account. If you don’t care what these facts are, as distinct from views about immigrants, or if you ignore them in your zeal about what’s moral or not, all the values you may ever care to defend will be in danger.

  18. The Prescription Was Clear

    Some questions:

    Is Melanija Knavs (now Trump) an “immigrant?”

    If so, why? Why not Donald? (*Do try and avoid the obvious pedantic answer.)

    If not, what does that tell you about the problem?

  19. anonymous

    A discussion about immigration among various non-NC readers may turn up the phrase Zeroth Amendment. It would be worthwhile to review that concept so as to have more of a global understanding of the different viewpoints and arguments pro and con.

    A further discussion point would be to review the impact of US efforts, sanctioned or otherwise, through the School for the Americas.

    The latter shows how immigration got a shove through numerous societal manipulations, and that led fairly directly to much refugee and border crashing, with the eventual outgrowths such as MS-13.

    It is one thing to own up to US moral obligations, or even to acknowledge that those exist, and try to deal with the aftermath of one failed policy after another. That would require some concerted effort to help numerous human beings. It is altogether something different to throw open the doors to bring anyone and everyone from wherever in, regardless of their intentions. Ask border control people about the infiltrations from unfriendly countries.

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