Welcoming Immigrants – Where Does the U.S. Rank?

As we know, the U.S. has long been a nation of immigrants. Most Americans descended from immigrants, and the U.S. is world renowned for welcoming immigrants. Since 1965, when per nation quotas was repealed and replaced by an overall immigration quota, and the 1790 bar against naturalization by non-whites was repealed, we have been welcoming immigrants from every nation on Earth.

The anti-any-immigrant lobby for decades has been issuing dire warnings of the economic, environmental, and social disaster that lurks if we don’t drastically curtail all immigration. The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies all advocate for “traditional” immigration levels, code words for pre-1965 immigration policy. The anti-any-immigrant lobby seeks 1956 U.S. immigration levels of 250,000, a 75% reduction, and that only after a ten-year timeout of no immigration at all!

Where Does the U.S. Rank in Welcoming Immigrants?

Often we hear the U.S welcomes more immigrants than any other nation, but is that really true? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes reports on migration levels. U.S. legal immigration levels of just over million is indeed the largest in the world in absolute number, but as a percentage of population, we actually welcome half as many legal immigrants (0.34%) as other developed nations (0.60%).

welcoming immigrants immigration inflow oecd

Immigration levels as percentage of population in 2011 (Source: OECD)

Do Nations That Rank High in Welcoming Immigrants Also Rank Well Economically?

The GDP rankings of nations can be found at the World Bank web site. Here’s the top nations. The U.S. ranks #15, though not all nations ranked higher than the U.S. are considered “developed” nations due to oil and natural gas production (i.e. Kuwait).

welcoming immigrants GDP rankings

Nations that excel in welcoming immigrants often have high GDP per capita too!

Switzerland is #1 in immigration at 1.57% of population (in 2011), with a per capita GDP of $83,326. Switzerland has four official languages, yet doesn’t seem to have a problem assimilating so many immigrants!

Norway ranks #2 in immigration at 1.22% of population, and has a per capita GDP of $96,081, #2 in the world.

Australia ranks #4 in immigration, at 0.97% of population, and ranks #8 in per capita GDP, at $61,789 per year.

Sweden ranks #5 in immigration, at 0.76% of population, and has per capita GDP of  $57,114, # 10 in the world.

Canada, our neighbor to the North, ranks #9 in immigration at 0.72% of population, and ranks #11 in per capita GDP of $50,334.

Tiny Luxembourg is #2 in GDP per capita at $114,232. Luxembourg isn’t listed in the 2011 chart above, but in 2010 OECD reported Luxembourg was #1 in immigration, at 3.116% of population.

The U.S. ranks #18 of 24 OECD nations per the chart above, with immigration at 0.34% of population. Our per capita GDP of $48,112 is #15 in the world. By comparison, Luxembourg accepts 10 times as many immigrants, and has per capita GDP more than double that of the U.S. Switzerland accepts five times as many immigrants, and has per capita GDP 73% higher than the U.S. Norway accepts 3-1/2 times as many immigrants as the U.S., and has per capita GDP double that of the U.S. Australia accepts nearly three times as many immigrants, and has per capita GDP nearly 30% higher than the U.S. Sweden accepts 2-1/2 times as many immigrants, and has per capita GDP nearly 20% higher. Canada accepts 2-1/2 times as many immigrants, and has per capita GDP of 5% higher than the U.S.

All of these other nations have more generous social programs than the U.S., socialized medicine, etc, yet none of these nations are on the precipice of economic and societal collapse, though they welcome more immigrants as a percentage of population.

Where Does the U.S. Stack Up in Foreign-Born Population?

The anti-any-immigrant lobby has been issuing dire warnings for years that today’s immigrants refuse to assimilate, refuse to learn English, etc. You’d think if we accepted one more immigrant our entire economy would collapse, but where does the U.S. rank relative to other developed nations? OECD has an excellent chart showing the percentage of foreign-born.

welcoming immigrants foreign-born population

Foreign Born as Percentage of Population in 2011 (Source: OECD)

42.1 % of the tiny Luxembourg’s population is foreign born. With the #2 per capita GDP in the world, obviously Luxembourg is doing quite well, though nearly half their population are immigrants!

Affluent Switzerland is #2 with 27.3% foreign born. Despite four official languages, Switzerland has the #5 highest per capital GDP in the world and doesn’t appear on the verge of economic collapse. In fact, Switzerland excels at international business, bolstering the argument that more than one official language does indeed help with international competitiveness.

Australia accepts many third world immigrants and has a foreign born population of  26.7%, yet ranks #8 in per capital GDP.

The U.S. ranks #15 in per capita GDP, and ranks #18 of 24 developed nations in immigrant inflows as percentage of population.

Is the U.S. Overpopulated from Welcoming Immigrants?

The U.S. foreign born population is 13%. Many nations with far higher foreign born populations are doing just fine economically, yet somehow we’re expected to believe our economy is about to collapse because we have too many foreign-born residents who supposedly refuse to assimilate, learn English, etc.

Roy Beck from NumbersUSA has been issuing dire warnings about overpopulation in the U.S. for decades now. Population alarmism began in earnest in the 1950s, and picked up steam when the book “The Population Bomb” was published in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor, at the suggestion of the environmentalist Sierra Club. The Population Bomb warned of mass starvation and dangerous social upheavals in the 1970s and 1980s. If we took Ehrlich and the population reduction movement seriously, the world would have starved several times over by now and civilization would have collapsed! Instead, agricultural technology has immensely improved the world’s ability to feed it’s population, population growth slowed in industrialized nations, etc. None of the “chicken little” predictions came true!

However, despite dodging mass starvation many times since “The Population Bomb” was published, this hasn’t stopped population reduction liberals from their alarmist rhetoric. Immigration is the source of most recent population growth in the U.S. as white Americans have been procreating at less than replacement levels, and so population reduction liberals have latched onto immigration restriction as their principal tool of social engineering, following in the footsteps of early modern progressives like Margaret Sanger, Madison Grant, and Harry Laughlin, who founded the eugenics promoting Pioneer Fund that funded much of FAIR’s early growth.

Here’s a video of Roy Beck’s typical speech, using gumballs to raise the alarm about overpopulation. Note, when you hear the term “traditional immigration levels” mentioned, that means 1956 immigration levels, which would be a 75% reduction from present immigration levels, putting the U.S. immigration level at 0.085% of population, #22 of 24 OECD nations. Roy Beck also fails to mention that historically immigrants to the U.S. have had larger than average families, but after 2-3 generations family size drops to average as the offspring of immigrants fully acculturate. Roy Beck assumes fertility rates of immigrant demographics don’t change, but numerous studies show they slow down.

When you hear immigration restrictionists complain about the 1965 immigration reforms, rarely do they mention the main change in 1965 was abolishing per nation quotas that barred virtually all immigration from outside Europe, and severely restricted immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Early modern progressives thought Eastern and Southern Europeans as well as non-Europeans were racially inferior and sought to heavily weight immigration to Northern and Western European nations, while barring non-European immigration altogether.

The 1965 law also created a preference system that favored family members of citizens. Initially the family preference favored recent European immigrants, who were more likely to bring family members here, but as Europe became more affluent, fewer Europeans sought to immigrate to the U.S., and as more non-Europeans immigrated the patterns shifted towards non-European nations.

Defusing the Population Bomb

Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute wrote an excellent op-ed “Defusing the Population Bomb” in the Washington Times, writing:

“A recent New York Times story wails that if the world’s population isn’t curtailed soon, the globe will start to look as poor and crowded as Calcutta. Ted Turner says mankind is breeding like “a plague of locusts” and urges couples all over the world to limit themselves to one child. Zero Population Growth laments that the population of the U.S. is about twice the size it should be in order to protect the environment.

The mystery is why anyone takes these modern-day Chicken Littles seriously anymore. After all, every objective fact and environmental trend is running in precisely the opposite direction of what the widely acclaimed doomsayers of the 1960s – from Lester Brown to Paul Ehrlich to the Club of Rome – once predicted. Birth rates around the world are lower, not higher, today than at anytime in at least a century. Global per capita food production is 40 percent higher today than as recently as 1950. The “energy crisis” now is such a distant memory that these days oil is virtually the cheapest, not the most expensive, liquid on Earth. In sum, the population bomb propagandists have all the intellectual credibility of the Flat Earth Society.”

Recently conservative leader Mario Lopez published an article “Hijacking Immigration” in Human Life Review, exposing the population alarmists behind the anti-any-immigrant lobby, writing:

“The modern American population-control movement is dominated by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA. These population-control groups have wisely sought to appeal to American conservatives in pursuit of one of their stated policy goals: To limit all immigration into the United States.18 They have been so successful that many columnists and editorials refer to them as some derivative of “quintessentially American.”19 In reality, however, they reflect a very dark side of American history.

The opinions of the abortion and population-control movements are dominant among the founders, funders, and board members of FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. They represent the direct modern continuation of the 1960s and 1970s population-control movement—in many cases the same people involved in that movement decades ago sit on the boards of these three organizations.

Of course, not everyone concerned about immigration advocates population control, abortion, or sterilization. However, the evidence shows that the primary leaders and funders of the anti-immigration movement were drawn to it because they were also active organizers and supporters of, and contributors to, the population-control movement in the United States. This should give pause to pro-life advocates who might consider collaborating with groups such as FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA on the issue of immigration.

Once one scratches the surface, the whitewashing, rebranding, and slight refocusing of the most radical side of the green movement—advocates of population control, abortion, and family planning—is striking, and stands diametrically opposed to the pro-life cause.”

Will the Gang of Eight Plan Result in Welcoming Immigrants?

The gang of eight plan overhauls every aspect of immigration policy, from enforcement to immigrant and guest worker quotas. Although the immigrant quota will be expanded to clear a backlog of four million immigrants waiting in line, U.S. immigration levels will still not be high relative to other developed nations. The recent CBO report also suggests there will still be illegal immigration, which reflects still limited guest worker quotas. Historically every time our economy demanded more immigrants than quotas allowed for, widespread illegal immigration resulted. Big labor likes to severely restrict guest worker programs, on the theory that reducing the supply of guest workers boosts their members’ wages, but in reality limiting supply just fuels the black market in immigrant labor we’ve seen in recent years, and slightly reduces wages for unskilled American workers.

For example, the 1924 per nation quotas severely limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. In the early 20th century, 200,000 Italians immigrated each year. The 1924 quota for Italy was set at under 4,000, a 98% reduction. Similar low quotas were set on other Southern and Eastern European nations, and not surprisingly by the late 1920s there were several million unauthorized immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, who were given amnesty because it was deemed impractical to deport that many people. The economics driving migration out of Southern and Eastern Europe didn’t change, and many came anyway.

Overall, the ‘gang of eight’ immigration reform plan is a big improvement over the present system. We’re not likely to see quotas abolished in favor of a market-based mechanism such as tariffs on guest worker wages paid by employers this year, or as long as Democrats who are beholden to big labor maintain control the Senate. Perhaps in future years, however, the need for more free market capitalism in immigration policy will become plainly evident, especially as the U.S. population ages and we don’t have enough young people paying into social security and Medicare.


Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche  Republicans

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Discuss: “Welcoming Immigrants – Where Does the U.S. Rank?”

  1. June 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Lots of research here. You brought together scattered info from a large number of sources. Stellar job! I would also say, “Now folks, OK, here are the facts so “for Pete’s sake” quit using these same tired cliches.”

    • June 22, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Feel free to cross-post on your blog. Just be sure to include a link back to the original blog post and include my name as author. Thanks.

      Posted by bquasius


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