Back to blog

How to convince sceptics of the value of immigration?

See blog

Readers' comments

The Economist welcomes your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful of other readers. Review our comments policy.


Legal immigration is generally not the issue when proper controls are in place. Illegal immigration is an invasion of low skilled, uncivilized, sub-cultures that destroy our society and place an extreme burden on our economy. No amount of leftist, Marxist, progressive, rhetorical nonsense will ever convince rational humans that this is good for any nation. Even the so-called "skilled" elite immigrants--like in our hospitals--have lowered the standards of care to third world conditions. Enough.
All illegals need to be thrown out immediately. No exceptions.

George Haworth

The world is big and situations vary, but the situation in Europe as far as I can see is this; when the ruling parties who are (broadly speaking) supposed to represent the reasonable centre do not pay attention to the fact that a significant proportion of the European people have (for all we know legitimate) concerns over mass immigration, those people will feel like they have no choice but speak to the parties and groups that will definitely listen. Many of these groups are not the sort that any reasonable person would like to be involved with given the choice.

It’s fair enough to pontificate about the benefits of immigration and there is most likely some truth in these points. But to present it as nothing but unbounded benefit for the receiving countries is seriously dishonest, especially considering the fact that a significant number of people on the ground who have had mass immigration forced upon them tell a different story.

I don’t know about you but I’d love to know what sort of neighbourhood Philippe Legrain lives in? I’m almost certain it’s very nice.


Discussing the benefits of immigration per se begs essential questions. Are we talking about immigrants who are: legal or illegal, skilled or unskilled, law-abiding or criminal,productive or a burden on society? Dismissing those who oppose
the latter in each case as anti-immigrant or xenophobic is dishonest. Another point almost never discussed in debates on immigration is a simple political fact: immigration in America produces more voters for the Democratic Party, which is why the political left refuses any limits it.


To convince sceptics on the value of immigration you must do a few things, such as:
* Find a way that convinces natives that immigrants are not a threat to local values and culture (for example Britain or Germany's goverments tolerating or covering up raping, arranged weddings, incest or crime sprees from newcomers just because they feel a kind of strange pity on them).
* Find a way that convinces natives that despite the fact that mechanization is projected to wipe out 1/2 of menial jobs in the next 30 years, a country will benefit from wholesale influx of unqualified labor.


1% immigration = 2% additional gdp growth:
Could this be a bit of a hen and egg thing? (I tried to cross-read the article to figure this out but failed miserably.)
A more obvious causal relation to me it seems would be:
A: Boom dries out labour market. B: Dried-out labour market attracts migrants. C: Inflow of talent allows for further prosperity.
Another thing: Immigration is good for the economy and emmigration is good for the economy, too? This looks a bit like positivism + confirmation bias. It's not necessarilly a contradiction, but it needs some explaining, I think.
And, does the above mentioned 1%_2% study suggest, that immigration is also economically beneficial, when unemployment is high?


So the Economist is saying that immigration is definitely a good thing?

In that case why are we allowing immigrants to enter the rich developed world? We should really be charitable and send all our migrants to countries that are less developed. Afghanistan and Somalia are a mess, should we not be sending our migrants there?

When i read articles like this it really makes me question everything that the Economist produces.


An opiner at "The Economist" wrote, "In fact, immigrants are typically less likely to commit crimes ... than locals."
Such a claim is misleading due to an abuse of statistics. Any sociological assertion must present results by ethnicity and race because differences in culture and genetics produce starkly different behaviors.
There are 2 studies which are often cited by reporters and which are related to the criminality of immigrants. The first study was done by The Sentencing Project. This study should be ignored because it avoids presenting the results by ethnicity and race. (reference: )
The second study was done by the Cato Institute. This study presents results by ethnicity and race and is worthy of your consideration. (reference: )
The study by the Cato Institute shows that immigrants are incarcerated at a lower rate than natives for each ethnicity or race. The study also shows that Africans and Hispanics of the 2nd and later generations are incarcerated at a much higher rate than (1) Africans and Hispanics of the 1st generation (i.e., the immigrant generation) and (2) Asians and Europeans of all generations.
Africans and Hispanics who are immigrants fear being deported back to the inferior countries created by their native cultures. So, these people behave themselves upon entry into the United States. The 2nd generation of Africans and Hispanics are safe from deportation, and they promptly become criminals.
Both Africans and Hispanics are less likely to assimilate than Europeans and Asians. Uncontrolled immigration from Latin America threatens the United States.
Moreover, at the following Web link
is a sociological study that analyzes the rate of arrest for murder and that uses data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Pew Research Center for 2013. This study examines the rate (of arrest) by ethnicity and race. This rate is approximately proportional to the number of people murdered (per year) by each ethnicity and race and can be viewed as a proxy for the latter rate.
Hispanics commit murder at 6 times and 3 times the rate at which Asian-Americans and European-Americans, respectively, commit murder.
Americans do not oppose all immigration. Rather, they justifiably oppose immigration of certain groups (like Hispanics) who exhibit high rates of violence.


I wanted to react to Ashbird's comment but for some unknown reason, the reply function doesn't work. Anyway, regarding the author's personal biases, they even extend to not actually reading the content of documents such as "The fiscal impact of immigration in OECD countries" he quotes in support of his positions. He may have read the overall, aggregate, conclusions but if he had actually read the details he would have to recognize that in many countries, the fiscal impact of low skilled immigration is clearly negative. This is based on the observation that: " Employment is the single most important determinant of migrants net fiscal contribution, particularly in countries with generous welfare states. "

As it happens, in the EU as a whole, the unemployment rate for 3rd country immigrants stands at about 23% (2012-13) versus 10% for the native born population and it thus that the report also says , “In most countries, immigrants have a less favourable net fiscal position than the native-born. This is driven by immigrant’s lower taxes and scoial security contributions and not by higher dependence on social benefits. However, because unemployed migrants tend to be less likely to obtain unemployment benefits than their unemployed native peers, they are more likely to find themselves among the recipients of social assistance than the native born...”

If you add much higher dependency ratios for 3rd country migrants compared to the native born population, it further adds to the negative overall balance and as the immigrant population ages, it gets worse again: Page 159 table 3.7

I could go on and on with examples of Mr Legrain's cherry picking but suggest that those that are interested simply read the OECD report he quoted as it speaks for itself.

guest-owwaelo in reply to guest-celte71

What you delicately term "cherry-picking" is other places known as shameless lying. Unlike you or Ashbird, however, I support further efforts such as the one here by The Economist and Mr Legrain.
I am a member of the extreme right, so hardly need add Mr Legrain never had the least chance of convincing me, for one, but I am delighted to see he has managed to generate backlash even among the Willkommenskultur groupies supporting the open borders invasion by third-worlders. I care nothing about their religions, I just don't want them anywhere near any civilized country, which they are certain to turn into what president Trump aptly called a "sh*thole" within a few, very few, generations.
The process was clearly described in a little-noticed movie called Idiocracy:
I certainly hope it will not come to shooting invaders at the borders or sinking their rickety boats, but it is as well to be prepared, and in that regard may I remind everyone that at least in the US the right owns all the guns.

R77wYfR8Qw in reply to guest-celte71

Don't forget that over 70% of prison population in France is Arab. Prisons in some areas have even higher percentage.
This would likely match USA incarceration rates for Blacks if expressed per 100k of given group.
It costs a lot of money to have all these armed guys in front tourist attractions all over France.

ashbird in reply to guest-celte71

Hi celte71 (Are you the same writer with or without the prefix “guest”? If yes, long time no talk).
Let’s get rid of some admin stuff first. The Reply function as well as Edit function as well as scrolling up and down function intermittently malfunctions. They have been doing that for a while. Nothing we can do.
Now. Rest assured (if you are the same celte71) I have read your fact-packed posts with all required informational links (btw, thank you for those links, for I learned a lot from them too. They are also, in my judgment, “bonafide” source material and deadly relevant. )
While on the subject of your concern, the situation in EU does appear a lot more grievous than the situation in US. Qualitatively different. Cf. commenter jouris’ comments throughout this blog. I trust jouris' facts. In US, Hispanics comprise the bulk of immigrants that pose a “threat” to nativists (“nativists” defined as folks who came , 1, 2, or 3, or max 4 generations earlier, US’s history being not as long as Europe’s, as you know). The perception is that all Hispanics (from Mexico and South America, chiefly Roman Catholic by religions, btw) are “murderers and robbers and rapists “(a notion propagated by our Commander-in-chief) and in their spare time, go to the local welfare office to claim their welfare checks. Needless to say, this perception is far from fact-based. No parallel or analogy could be drawn between them and the Muslim immigrants from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea in EU, although we have our share of Muslim immigrants in US too, who in large numbers settle in a couple of Mid-West cities, and to date, there is no evidence they behave the same way as the new Muslim settlers in EU.
I think the fundamental problem with the article is it assumes all immigrations from any country to any country are the same. They involve the same cause, the same politics, the same culture of origin of the immigrants, etc.. This assumption of homogeneity is simply intellectually DIS-respectable, not to mention devoid of intellectual rigor. But then I have come to learn, finally, that as a profession, journalists have a tendency, nay, a propensity, nay, a proclivity to “talk” that way, perhaps b/c they have to churn out something with a looming deadline. A good number of them would say the most asinine things, with the pretense that by looking at one nail on one toe of one limb of an elephant, they now know EVERYTHING there is to know about the elephant. They folks not only self-qualify to be the authoritative on any given subject, they proceed to make the broadest and most sweeping statements on the subject. The TE of late is above-average egregious in this offense. They do the same on what they call gender-equality, what they call “liberalism” (God knows this present article is one of the most ILLIBERAL thing I have ever had the misfortune to oblige myself to read!)
”Regarding the author's personal biases, they even extend to not actually reading the content of documents such as ‘The fiscal impact of immigration in OECD countries’ he quotes in support of his positions. He may have read the overall, aggregate, conclusions but if he had actually read the details he would have to recognize that in many countries, the fiscal impact of low skilled immigration is clearly negative…. As it happens, in the EU as a whole, the unemployment rate for 3rd country immigrants stands at about 23% (2012-13) versus 10% for the native born population.” Yes! The author cherry-picks in such a brazen fashion he turned me off personally. I am pro-immigration pro-diversity by temperament. He managed to “persuade” me to head in the OPPOSITE direction!! That really takes some ingenious work!
“If you add much higher dependency ratios for 3rd country migrants compared to the native born population, it further adds to the negative overall balance and as the immigrant population ages, it gets worse again: Page 159 table 3.7” I know, I know, celte71. I am a rather keen detector of bullshit. I have personally flunked many dissertation students based on one impermissible flaw in their work: Intellectual febrility and ethical irresponsibility. What doesn’t make the cut doesn’t. That’s all. Not complicated.
I have written my last post on the subject. Apologies if I could not find the time to respond to more. In any case, I have said all I have to say.

celte71 in reply to ashbird

Hi Ashbird.
Yes I am indeed Celte71 and I've just discovered how I can again use the reply function. I have to open the "Reply" link in a new window.

So nice to reconnect after what has been quite a while and I see that you are as active and as sharp in your commentary as ever. That fact that I mostly agree with what you have to say obviously doesn't do any harm either... :-)

Otherwise, like you, I found this series of articles so irritating that it actually made me more anti-immigration than I was to begin with and I really fail to understand that TE would actually allow someone publish such a poorly presented case in favour of immigration without at least attempting to integrate the fact that all immigration is not equal, both because of the migrants profiles and the large differences between the host societies re welfare policies and employment opportunities.

You may have noticed that a few people, including myself, mentioned a book about today's migration flows called "Exodus" by Paul Collier who also wrote another very well known book, "The Bottom Billion" several years ago. If you are really interested in the subject, it is probably one of the best books you could read as it both honest and balanced , presenting the issues from the perspective of all the stakeholders, the migrants themselves, the host societies and the donor countries. It is also provocative enough to make for a far more interesting read than the highly ideological soup were served up here.

All the best and looking forward to interacting again from time to time now that I have a way to use the "Reply" function.


Facts and rational arguments are often insufficient to sway sceptics.

This seems to also apply to the author's sceptical perspective towards managed immigration.


I address the degree to which this 3-installment exercise has succeeded or failed.
In terms of "How to convince....", it does appear the installment article ended up in a worse place than before it began.
My worst fear and tongue-in-cheek prediction in my comment on Jun 1st, 10:52 (happened to be the first of all comments) materialized.
The piece opened with positing a premise, a closed one. Read it again. It essentially said anyone who did not think the same needed to be “persuaded” or undergo some kind of “conversion” - here a political one. It then invited comments from readers, purportedly availing an open forum for the contribution of ideas in the spirit of freedom of expression and democracy.
Readers and commenters in good faith responded to the invitation.
The second installment selected a series of specific comments that agreed with the premise, and included two sweeping sentences to the effect “some continued to disagree with the premise”.
The third installment concluded the premise posited is right after all, and therefore anyone who disagreed is wrong.
Reminds me of an old tried and NOT true method in disputation: X is right because X is right. Reason: Because I say so.
I quote myself from my June 1, 10:52 comment post: “Lastly, winning an argument is NOT the point. Making sense is. If this Open Future project is about winning an argument, then it is starting on a wrong footing, completely. I hope that is not the case.” Before that, I raised the issue of the importance "being aware of our own biases".
An incidental point - The research paper you quoted to satisfy 2 reader’s query on the source for the claim of “a 1% rise in the immigrant share of the population, low- or high-skilled, tends to raise incomes per person by 2%” stated the following: “The macro-critical policy issue of migration, including speculations that migration can be an unfavorable phenomenon for the receiving economies. A careful examination of the impact of migration on host economies is thus critical. Focusing on the economic impact, most of the academic discussion has centered on the effect of migration on labor markets and public finances. Much less is known about the long-term impact of immigration on the GDP per capita (or the standard of living) of host economies. This note makes three contributions to estimating this impact: it uses a restricted sample of advanced economies rather than a mixed sample of higher- and lower-income host countries, it examines whether the GDP per capita impact varies for different skill levels of migrants, and it goes beyond the aggregate impact of migration on GDP per capita to examine how broadly gains in this regard are shared across the population. In particular, it examines whether migration impacts the income levels of those both at the top and at the bottom of the earnings distribution, or whether gains are instead concentrated in a small group of high earners. It finds that immigration significantly increases GDP per capita in advanced economies, that both high- and lower-skilled migrants can raise labor productivity, and that an increase in the migrant share benefits the average income per capita of both the bottom 90 percent and the top 10 percent of earners, suggesting the gains from immigration are broadly shared.”
The point of the article is well taken. Thank you. But the query was on how the stated 1% and 2% were extrapolated.
Lastly, for an open future open forum, you completely failed to acknowledge the concern of folks who have an issue with the sweeping societal change brought on by mass immigration of Muslims in Europe. Accurately or inaccurately perceived, their concerns are legitimate. I repeat: Legitimate. Ignoring them lock-stock-and-barrel, the way you blithely floated over, is the reason why Brexit and Trump came to power.

Phil Hayward

Immigration is good BUT....

The Southern and heartland States of the USA demonstrate how to handle population growth the best, they have highly elastic supply of housing, and infrastructure for continued growth is provided largely by extremely mature bond financing markets. De-facto new municipalities are incorporated to provide infrastructure at newly developed locations, with the bond finance secured over the future property tax revenue from the development.

In most of the rest of the world, highly inelastic housing supply and regulatory rigged property markets, rigged in favour of property rentiers and finance providers, is an utterly toxic combination with immigration. The kind of urban planning that is responsible for this, even causes ongoing real price inflation in urban land when population is shrinking - Liverpool and other UK cities were good case studies. The inflation trebles when there is strong population growth, but the prices certainly did not deflate when there was negative growth.

There are numerous distortions in the urban economy that result in a "productivity gap", it is a fallacy that producing a "compact city" by FORCE (as opposed to market-driven agglomeration effects) will increase efficiency or productivity.

The other factor that the elites are deeply dishonest about regarding immigration, is that they are NOT PROTECTING THEIR OWN POPULATION from terrorists and criminals!!! They are NOT "vetting out" these people at the border, and then they are shamelessly pandering to criminals and enabling crime, and failing to prevent terrorism, on "cultural sensitivity" grounds. The crowning touch to the elites perfidy, is in cracking down on decent honourable people who dare to express concern.

Distrust of the elites and their entire agenda is WHOLLY JUSTIFIED!! Immigration is good but it is being abused as part of an evil agenda. This abuse must end; it is not immigration that is the problem, it is the wider "progressive Left" agenda which is riddled with hypocrisies and contradictions that only make sense when explained as a malicious campaign against our civilisational heritage and its Christian roots.


One of the effects of high levels of immigration is racism. This has always been the case, and it will always be the case.
ANyone who is against immigration should also be loud spoken against racism.
no-immigration, low or high immigration - whichever is your stance, people should be loud about their anti-racism stance..... unless you yourself are a racist
racism tends to be problem when the anti immigration policy dominates
Inclusiveness is very important for your own society

BAZEE in reply to BAZEE

Change itself is inevitable. But people absorb changes very slowly. Most people would prefer not to have any changes at all.
The lesson is - everything in moderation, include everybody in the conversation, let the majority have a dominant say and most of all be inclusive.
A little bit of kindness doesn't go astray.


Strong arguments put forward. I support immigration myself. I however wish to make the distinction between war migration and economic migration. There are strong moral reasons for the former to be welcome. However, the latter should be welcome only when the migrants are committed to contribute to the economy with their labour. The migration policy of Canada serves as a good example of how migration can be capitalised for greater economic good. Canada seems to mostly accept skilled migrants.
Yet, even illegal immigration can be beneficial to a country, like Milton Friedman once argued. Illegal immigrants provide their often cheap labour, but are not entitled to any state benefits. They are often a less costly form of labour.
Regarding the author's essay, I believe that it could be improved by providing more balance to it, i.e. giving weight to the opposing arguments.


Loved the article but in my mind the core of the issue lies in how we define ourselves as people:

1. Am I a human being inhabitting this planet and therefore have a global frame of reference in trems of welfare and solidarity issues?

2. Or am I a citizen of XXX (in my case Portugal) and thefore there is a relevant distiction between "us versus them"?

Personnaly, I remain undecided between the two views of the world. However, the "nation-state" model of the world, which ultimatelly informs policy-making has been around at least since the late middle-ages (one could argue much sooner than that) and remains in place today.

In essence, my point is that the issue goes far beyond a mere cost-benefit analysis of immigration. It ultimatelly forces all of us to choose between options 1 and 2...

Congratulations on the fantastic work and debate!

Best regards,



As an exercise, I found this highly problematic. The author seemed to me to patronise those who disagreed with him, and simply not to take seriously the idea that there are substantive arguments on the other side. I am not saying that these are necessarily telling. But to just disregard them, and to concentrate on the task of convincing sceptics of the value of immigration as if there were no important arguments to me met, is too bad. Clearly, there are limits to what he can do in the space available. But this seems to me, all in all, a reprehensible performance: one would have expected better of The Economist.

Clement P

The level of discourse that the author aims is too low resolution: that immigration is not completely bad. The kinds of people who read the economist, and I daresay the population at large, are generally not anti-immigration. Even Australians during the highly restrictive White Australia Policy readily welcomed British migrants.

However people have concerns and reservations about certain immigration policies. The author didn't adequately address rebuttals, or questions about immigration that people raised in the comments. So this exercise was largely moot.


I am afraid the aim of the Open Essay was not accomplished. To convince sceptics of the value of immigration one has to prove its value first. That is - demonstrate the benefits outweight the disadvantages, while the Author simply assumes it is so.
I imagine that somewhat more nuanced attitude would be in place too, since - as one commenter remarked - immigration is a little bit like water: some is good, a lot or too little is not.
Aristotle, whose advice the Author seems to respect but unfortunately fails to follow, wouldn't make a killer-mistake, which is using a broad-brush in any complicated matter, were he to convince the victims of an occassional flood of the obvious value of water.
Finally, the whole tone of the article, especially the third part does not help, either.

B. Hotchkiss

"Starting with reason, an American commenter says sceptics should be asked: “Would you personally (not to mention the country) be better off if the anti-immigration policies that you advocate had been in place when…your ancestors…were immigrating?"
This isn't a rational argument, it is an emotional one. A rational person would be quite willing to pull the drawbridge up after himself if the circumstances warranted it. Pulling the drawbridge up after one's ancestors hasn't even got a moral component. An American of European ancestry might reasonably conclude he didn't want somebody doing the same thing to him that his ancestors did to the pre-Columbian population of the continent. (I know the situations aren't analogous, but the arguments are.)
The following paragraph twists nicely from crimes to terrorist acts, and from immigrants to refugees, in order to provide a statistic that seems to support the author's point.
It seems to me that a better way to promote pro-immigration policies would be to stop publishing articles that simply cause sceptics to marshal their own anti-immigration arguments and put them in order.