Immigration, especially the massive influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico in the U.S., is going to be a big issue in upcoming U.S. elections.
But legal immigration in the United States creates few problems. This fact has not been lost on European policymakers, who are obviously struggling to create a workable immigration policy themselves. Germans tried to copy some aspects of the U.S. system in the 1990s. Fareed Zakaria explains why it didn’t work by contrasting German and U.S. immigration policy:
Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late ’90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year…. [but the program didn’t attract many takers, and was abolished].
I told the German official at the time that I was sure the initiative would fail…. The German Green Card was misnamed, I argued, because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. green card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming American (after five years and a clean record).
The official dismissed my objection, saying that there was no way Germany was going to offer these people citizenship. "We need young tech workers," he said. "That’s what this program is all about." So Germany was asking bright young professionals to leave their country, culture and families; move thousands of miles away; learn a new language; and work in a strange land — but without any prospect of ever being part of their new home. Germany was sending a signal, one that was accurately received in India and other countries, and also by Germany’s own immigrant community…. Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?
Aside from a bit of triumphalism, I think Zakaria has a point here. The easiest way for Europe to fix its demographic problems is an influx of productive, capable immigrants; clever, motivated people who will found businesses, pay taxes, and otherwise spur economic growth. These people want to move to a country in which they will can realize their ambitions with as little bureacracy and harassment as possible. Although they may not have extensive formal educations, they are intelligent, and don’t like being condescended to.
Lots of countries want these immigrants, including the United States. In the U.S. they are offered a bureaucratic path to citizenship, if you are admitted legally. It’s not simple, and you have to work and pay taxes and avoid trouble with the law, but if you do, you will get your citizenship. At the end of that path, the test for citizenship consists of 10 questions (picked from a list of 100 potential questions). All of the questions are generic questions about U.S. history; there’s nothing about whether you like baseball, whether you know who Mark Twain is. You only have to get 6 of the questions right.
In parts of Germany, by contrast, some government bureacrat will ask them a bunch of questions (G), such as to name three mountain ranges in Germany, or describe which event occurred on 20 July 1944. They might also have to explain what methods of influencing their son or daughter’s choice of marital partner are permitted and which are forbidden, and to explain you have to send your child to school in Germany. The kind of enterprising, business-starting, tax-paying immigrants that would be extremely useful to Germany will find these questions condescending and intrusive.
Instead of asking the questions perhaps German bureaucrats and politicians should be answering the following question: If you were the kind of immigrant Germany could really use right now, which nation would you choose (ceteris paribus)?