Immigration is good for you. Yes, you.

posted 25 October 2009, updated 25 October 2009

From a recent thread on Hacker News about Sergey Brin's donations to the society that helped bring him to America:

Immigration is fine, as long as it's an even playing field. The problem is that immigration right now is treated as a source of cheap labor by the companies. The policy needs to be that if you come to this country, you are officially an American, and should be paid a proper wage. Instead of being forced to work 60 hours a week for $30K.

This way companies won't get to drive down salaries by just importing a bunch of Indians to work for slave wages.

Call it Patriot Wage Freedom Act. Which would make it a form of discrimination to pay less than fair wage for employees based on their immigrant status. You make it illegal for companies to pay $10/hour for a C++ developer with 10 years experience in California and you can import as many programmers as you wish.

Even playing field my ass. This kind of stuff really makes me angry.

Do you think when millions of starving Irish refugees turned up in the 1840s it didn't depress wages for existing American workers at the time? Or the Poles, or the Germans, or the dozens of other nationalities?

Immigration is an economic force which moves labour from areas of high supply to areas of high demand. The result, considered globally, is greater prosperity for everybody.

The American economy is and always has been fuelled by cheap labour in the form of unskilled immigration -- forget $30k, the people who really get the economy moving are doing shit work for $8/hour.

Lower wages means goods are cheaper, which means you can buy stuff that's cheaper, and when we export it we make more money. Lower wages are GREAT for the economy -- even, in the long run, for those in the industries affected, because their savings are bigger (cheaper stuff) and worth more (lower inflation), and their standard of living is higher (more stuff).

And it's as true in high tech as it is in blue-collar industries.

Saying you don't think there should be programmers working for $30k is exactly like those idiot auto workers who formed unions which demanded that they all be paid $60k/year to do the same assembly work people in Asia are doing for $30k. As a result, they're now either out of work or YOU are paying their ridiculous $60k wage out of your tax money after the bailouts. Not exactly the American Way.

Even if you shipped over every single able and willing programmer in India and China to California tomorrow wages wouldn't drop to $10/hour. There are just not that many programmers in the world.

But because some Americans are terrified that rampant immigration will mean they earn $95k instead of $100k/year, every time they get they opportunity they vote to make it harder for hard-working, skilled immigrants to enter and stay in this country. In so doing, they save that $5k but never earn the $50k they would have earned as the stock market rose on the strength of all that immigration-fuelled growth. But because you can't see money you never earn, few people complain.

Do you know how many H-1B visas (the most common skilled tech worker visa) are granted every year? 65,000. That's 0.02% of the population. You could let in 10 times as many people every year and nobody would even notice.

America's anti-immigration policies are stupid and self-defeating on a purely economic analysis, before you even get into the issue of a nation of white immigrants suddenly deciding that immigration is bad because the new guys are all brown.