Who wants to migrate?

Gallup World Poll says that 16% of the world’s population wants to migrate internationally and permanently. In these countries, at least half of those polled say they want to: Sierra Leone (73%), Lebanon (63%), Honduras 56%), Gabon (55%), Afghanistan (53%), Republic of the Congo (53%), Ghana (53%), Nigeria (53%), and Albania (50%) and Dominican Republic (50%).

On a regional rather than individual country basis, Gallup’s 2018 poll reported that 33% of Sub-Sahara Africans want to migrate and 27% of Latin Americans and Caribbeans.

The United States (by a lot) followed by Canada, Germany and Spain are the most desired destinations.

Nigeria stands out among the countries with a high level of desire to out-migrate. It is the only one of these countries where a significant absolute number of well formally educated persons will predictably out-migrate. Nigeria will remain for some time Sub-Sahara Africa’s main exporter of human talent. I have posted several times on the exceptionally high educational attainment of Nigerians in the United States, including here.

The African Polling Institute in 2020 found that Canada was the most desired destination. About 150,000 Nigerians live in Canada (vs. 400,000 in the U.S., with a almost 10 times Canada’s population).

The reasons Nigerians give for migrating to Canada are better career opportunities (75%), heightened insecurity and violence (60%), the desire to provide a better future for their children (55%), for further education (40%), and perceived poor governance in Nigeria (35%).  The education and skill levels of Nigerians who move to Canada are high, reflected in their entry method: the Federal Skilled Workers Program known as Express Entry (56%) and Studentship / Postgraduate Work Permit (25%).






Non-citizens in the US military

32,000 non-citizens are serving today in the United States military, around 2% of the total military force. Over 760,000 non-citizens have gained citizenship through military service. About 8,000 non-citizens join the military every year. Roughly 6,000 persons a year become citizens through this route. Here is an analysis of the military’s program, including benefits to the military which include longer voluntery tenure. Here is a recruitment website of the military.

Rules and citizenship benefit: The individual must be a legal permanent resident with a green card; must be able to read, write, and speak English fluently; must be between the ages of 17 and 35, although some branches of the military may have different age requirements; must be physically fit; and must pass a background check. If accepted into the military, the non-citizen soldier will be required to serve for a minimum of one year of active duty or two years in the reserves in order to be eligible for citizenship. This process for citizenship takes around six months.

During World War I, the Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed non-citizen soldiers to be drafted into the military. However, it wasn’t until World War II that non-citizen soldiers were actively recruited to serve in the military through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. This program was designed to recruit non-citizen soldiers with critical skills, such as language expertise or medical training.

In the Korean War, about 32,000 of the 1.7 million American military were non-citizens.  In the Vietnam War, non-citizen soldiers were about 50,000 of 2.7 million.

After Vietnam War,  the number of non-citizen soldiers in the military decreased  In 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, the MAVNI program was reinstated to recruit non-citizen soldiers with critical skills.

Special Filipino citizenship programs began in 1901 and ended in 1992. The “Philippine Scouts” program was established in 1901 during the Philippine-American War. Under this program, Filipinos were recruited to serve as soldiers in the United States Army and Navy, with the promise of gaining U.S. citizenship as a reward for their service. In the case of stewards serving Navy officers, Filipino stewards were hired to work on U.S. Navy ships, where they would serve as cooks, waiters, and cabin stewards for American officers.  In exchange for their service, the Filipino stewards were promised the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship after completing their contract.  It was only in 1946, after the Philippines gained independence from the United States, that U.S. citizenship was assured. The program ended in 1992.

DACA cohort: In 2014, the Department of Defense issued a policy, later turned into law, allowing individuals who have been granted DACA status to enlist in the military, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements. The individual must be a legal permanent resident with a green card; must be able to read, write, and speak English fluently; must be between the ages of 17 and 35, although some branches of the military may have different age requirements; must be physically fit; and must pass a background check.

Pilot program begun, terminated: A program focused on language capability started as a pilot program in 2008 and recruited about 10,800 people before it ceased in 2016. Some of the languages that were eligible for the program included Pashto, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Bengali, Somali, and Yoruba. The Defense Department ended the program citing security concerns, and imposed strict new screening on thousands of recruits who had already signed enlistment contracts for the program but had not yet begun basic training. The Army flagged many of them as security risks, even when other federal agencies had cleared them for more sensitive jobs in the civilian world. (Go here.)

Bureaucratic nightmares of immigrants that Biden can end without Congress

The Migration Policy Institute has identified 21 opportunities for Executive Branch action not needing Congressional approval.  Here are six examples of problems solvable by executive action.

Only 17% of non-immigrant application processing is occurring online and the government allows online filing for just 15 of it more than 100 application types. Applicants often still file on paper even when the electronic filing is available. (Under “make online filing workable.”)

The form to apply for a permanent residence has grown from 6 pages to 20.(“Shorten forms.”)

Temporary workers have a period of up to 60 days after ending work with their sponsor employer to find a new job with employers sponsorship. After that any worker without a new job or who has not transitioned to another type of immigration status must leave the United States. Highly skilled in specialized workers often need more than 60 days to secure a new job. This is also a very short transition period for workers who have sometimes been in the United States for decades and have deep community ties. (“Extend job-search periods for temporary workers.”)

Temporary visa holders who wish to travel outside the United States must renew their visas at a U.S. consulate abroad. Long wait times mean the temporary workers who travel for work, vacation, or family visits can get stuck outside the country. Wait times in Kolkata are 199 days and 189 days in Hyderabad. (“Renew visas in the United States.”)

Spouses of visa holders of the extraordinary ability visas (O-1) can come to the United States but are not allowed to work. Spouses of H1-B workers are authorized to work only in limited circumstances. (“Expand access to work authorization for the spouses of highly skilled temporary workers.”)

A list of occupations (Schedule A) which Department of Labor considers the need of workers is so high that comparable labor market studies are not necessary has not been revised since 1991. (“Update schedule A.”)

Global remittances and charges

Total global remittances in 2022 were $626 billion. The total volume was $121 billion in 2000 and $420 billion in 2010.  (Go here for time line.)

According to the World Bank, the global average charge for remittances in late 2022 was 6%.  The percentage of remittances with a charge of less than 5% increased from 17% in 2009 to 42% in 2022.  Thus, the UN’s target for 2030 of 3%, and none higher than 5%, are being approached.

But why are remittance charges high? The culprits include complexity in regulation, including anti-money laundering controls, underdevelopment of banking infrastructure, hidden fees such as exchange rate margins, immaturity of digital payment systems. Mobile phone digital payment systems such as Venmo account for roughly 1% of global payment value.

Here is a World Bank-run analysis of remittance vendors and charges for the U.S. to Nigeria. The charges range from zero to 6% and average 3%. For the U.S. to Honduras there are no costless  methods and the average is 4.13%.

Competitors for low-cost remittances today include Azimo, Xoom and WorldRemit. To get a sense of how customers of regular remittances compare these vendors, see this analysis, which concludes “It’s impossible to nominate a winner in this category. While Xoom edges ahead on rates for some currencies, WorldRemit offers a slightly better deal on others.”



Is population decline a bad thing?

Most advanced countries are experiencing between flat and declining populations. The steady state fertility rate (births per woman) is 2.1. South Korea: 0.85. U.S: 1.7. The only way to keep population steady or growing is longer life expectancy and immigration. Canada one of extremely few countries with a functional immigration system which imports people (about 1% of total population a year, compared to about 0.3% in the U.S.).

Population decline creates problems: (1) faster shift towards old, post-workforce population, i.e. more old people per worker; (2) constraints on workforce supply. But constraints need to be examined by sector (personal services, technology, scientific, retail, etc.). And they are open to solutions, which may be more available with the penetration of artificial intelligence, with its capabilities in robots as well as human-like cognition. Social and political forces do, of course, constrain the flexibility of our immigration policies. There is no evidence that declining population adversely affects productivity improvements, but maybe I’m missing something.

Other problems from population decline include the risk of deflation. Deflation increases debt burden, discourages investment, and makes it more difficult for a central bank to manage the economy.

Another is that politics and enterprises have less new blood flowing into them, raising  the risk of organizational sclerosis.

Population increase can be by increasing fertility rate (very few successful examples, such as Hungary) and immigration. Immigration is a fruitful form of population stability and increase for two reasons: (1) immigration (especially at middle class level creates) a more cosmopolitan, liberal democratic society, which most of us want for social, cultural and economic reasons. (2) immigration tends to concentrate at child-bearing age (20-40) hence a fertility boost. (Immigrants are 14% of US population but 20% of births).

New strategies for immigration can lessen workforce constraints due to aging. Example: A consortium of hospital systems makes a 20-year deal with nursing schools in Nigeria to provide a steady stream of nurses. California Ag companies make deal with a Mexican state for farm labor. These will not happen until immigration control is shared with private organizations. These are basically rough copies of how the AMA influences the immigration of medical doctors.

“A sober assessment of asylum cases”

The following are excerpts from a TRAC “sober” analysis of asylum cases, published December 22, 2022

The latest available data reveal that the number of asylum seekers waiting for asylum hearings in the U.S. has now reached at least 1,565,966 individuals. [Up from about 200,000 at just before Trump took office and 600,000 just before Biden took office.]  Half are in Immigration Courts within the Justice Dept, half within the Customs and Immigration Service in the State Dept.

Asylum backlogs are not new. Yet in recent years, with political, economic, and environmental instability in places like Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, Central America, Ukraine, and elsewhere, the United States has seen a growth in migrants’ needs that outpace even the growing number of Immigration Judges and asylum officers added by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

In this report, TRAC aims to contribute to the public’s understanding of the current state of the asylum system by providing a detailed portrait of the nearly 800,000 cases in the asylum backlog before the Immigration Courts.

At the end of FY 2012, over 100,000 asylum cases were pending in the Immigration Court’s backlog. A decade later, the backlog had grown over 7-fold to over 750,000 cases in September at the end of FY 2022.  During October and November 2022 (the first two months of FY 2023), the Immigration Court’s asylum case backlog grew by more than the growth during the entire last year of the Obama administration in FY 2016.

Detaining applicants

A major political debate, one which is playing out in part in the U.S. federal courts, continues to rage over whether asylum seekers should be detained while their cases are waiting to be heard. As a practical matter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently  [December 2022] is detaining just 29,000 immigrants. Detaining everyone in just the current Immigration Court asylum backlog would require more than 27 times current detention numbers. Today only 0.3 percent of those in the current asylum backlog are detained. See Table 3 and Figure 4.

While most immigrants in the asylum backlog are not detained, a growing segment are being electronically monitored under ICE’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program. As of June 30, 2022, a total of 16,569 families were being actively monitored while they were awaiting their hearing and decision. Given that only one member of a family and not all family members likely are being monitored, this implies that virtually all of the 110,000 asylum seekers assigned to the Dedicated Docket are (or were) subject to ATD monitoring.


Without representation, many asylum seekers are unable to complete the paperwork needed to file a formal asylum application. However, within the current asylum backlog, one in five (21%) are recorded as unrepresented. This ratio appears to greatly overstate the actual percentage who are unrepresented.  It is possible that a large number of asylum seekers are recorded as unrepresented in the Court’s files even when the asylum application was actually prepared and submitted with the assistance of an attorney.

There is a fairly even split between male and female asylum seekers. About 3 out of 10 are children under 18 years of age. The children who make up the Court’s asylum backlog almost all enter as part of a family group. This is because for most unaccompanied children their asylum applications are filed with the USCIS under special provisions of the law and not with the Immigration Court.

Countries of origin

Asylum seekers recorded as speaking 418 different languages from 219 different countries plus those who are stateless or from countries that no longer exist are in the current Immigration Court’s asylum backlog 59% come from just five countries. Guatemala has the largest number of asylum seekers (111,184) in the current Court’s backlog. This is followed by Honduras with 101,195 and El Salvador with 97,260. Together, these three countries from the so-called Northern Triangle comprise 39 percent of the Court’s asylum backlog. Mexico with 82,837 asylum seekers and Venezuela with 71,991 complete the list of the top five.

Beyond these five dominant players, there are an additional nine countries with at least 10,000 asylum seekers in the current backlog. Driving the increasing asylum backlog have been the increasing numbers not just from Venezuela which is in the top five, but from Cuba and Brazil who are part of this longer nationality list. See Figure 6 and Table 6 for figures on the changing composition of asylum seekers from these fourteen countries.

Historically, Immigration Courts in California and New York have had the largest asylum caseloads and decided the largest numbers of asylum claims. Over the years, these two states have experienced more asylum cases filed than any other locales. During FY 2022, for example, Immigration Courts in these two states accounted for just under half (48%) of all asylum cases decided on their merits.


But the location of asylum backlogs has been undergoing change as the location of new asylum filings has shifted. Florida has seen explosive growth in asylum filings. So has Massachusetts. These growth patterns have been driven in large part by shifts in the nationality groups seeking asylum in this country. Asylum seekers from Venezuela and from Cuba – two nationalities that have seen the largest rise – have tended to head to Florida. Most Brazilians have sought to start their new life in Massachusetts. And largely as a result, the asylum backlogs in these two states have experienced the largest growth.

There is no simple answer to the question of how long asylum seekers have to wait before they can have their claims heard and decided. Under Biden administration initiatives, including the Dedicated Docket and the Asylum Officer Rule initiatives, some newly arriving asylum seekers are being moved to the head of the line and their hearings expedited. Indeed, criticism is growing that cases are being heard too quickly before the asylum seeker has a chance to locate an attorney, or for the attorney to prepare adequate support for the asylum claims.

For most others who are not detained, especially those who entered the backlog queue a while ago, the wait can be very long. An estimate of the average backlog wait times from when the case was filed in the Immigration Court to when their asylum hearing will be scheduled and their claims heard is currently 1,572 days, or 4.3 years. Only 43% of individuals in the current asylum backlog have an actual individual proceeding scheduled to hear the evidence on the merits of that asylum seeker’s claims.



CBO population projections to 2053 and the role of immigration

From the most recent Congressional Budget Office forecast to 2053: Average net immigration per year will 0.31%. Average growth of 25-54 population will be 0.2% In the past 40 years, that prime working age cohort grew by 0.9% per year. Hence, Immigration growth is expected to be 0.31/0.2 = 50% faster than the total prime working age population.

Persons 65 and older to increase by 1.2% per year, much faster than the prime working populatio. The fertility rate will be at 1.75 per woman.

Total population will increase by 0.4%, lifted by immigration and longer life expectancy.

The contribution of immigration above is understated because it does not take into account that new immigrants are more concentrated in child-bearing ages. One needs to look at the burgeoning second generation population.  Recent immigrants comprise a birthing factory. Immigrants account for 20% of all births, even though at present the entire immigration population is just 14% of total population.  By the mid Century the second generation will start to have their own children.

Go here for the CBO forecast.

Slow and fast chain migration

Chain migration is a phenomenon where immigrants to a country help facilitate the immigration of others from their home country. Here two examples: one with over a hundred years of development, the other occuring virtually overnight.

LONG TIME COMING: Filipino nurses in the United States

Many Filipino nurses have migrated to the United States over many years, with earlier waves of immigrants helping to facilitate the migration of others from the Philippines. These nurses have formed tight-knit communities in cities such as Los Angeles and New York. the comprise 4% of all nurses in the U.S. and over one quater of nurses who died due to COVID.

One analysis: “In the early 1900s, the U.S. set up nursing schools in the Philippines that taught an American curriculum in an effort to “civilize” the Philippines. Then, in 1948, just two years after the Philippines gained independence from the U.S., the U.S. created the Exchange Visitor Program, which allowed foreign professionals to come to the U.S. for two years to help spread American democracy across the world and fight Soviet propaganda. Many Filipino nurses, already trained in American-style nursing, came to the U.S. Then, in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed, which allowed a larger number of immigrants from around the world to come to the U.S. There was a critical shortage of nurses following WWII and U.S. hospitals started advertising for Filipino nurses.”

FAST: Poles to the U.K.

Polish immigration for work in the United Kingdom surged after early in this century.  Many Polish immigrants to the United Kingdom came from the same regions of Poland, with earlier immigrants helping to facilitate the migration of others from their home region. These immigrants have formed tight-knit communities in cities such as London and Manchester.

Here is why. The Polish population in the U.K rose from under 100,000 in 2000 to over 600,000 in 2012.” n many respects the movement between Poland and the UK followed a common pattern in Western Europe in the second half of the 20th century. Examples include Italians to Switzerland in the 1950s and 1960s, Turks and Yugoslavs to Germany and Portuguese to the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s. [The very short term surge can be explained by] the right people in the right place under right circumstances. Right People: a boom in Poland of educated young people feeling very mobile. Right Place: easier to move from Poland to the UK and find low wage jobs in healthcare and food processing which UK workers did not like. Right Circumstances: The juncture of Poland’s accession to the EU (May 2004) with the decision taken by the UK government to grant immediate access to the British labour market. That other countries did not follow suit meant the lack of any strong competition from other receiving countries.”

Since Brexit there has been a large decline in the Polish population. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Polish-born people living in the UK decreased by 116,000 between 2018 and 2020, from 912,000 to 796,000. This is the largest decrease in the number of EU-born residents in the UK since records began. The Brexit vote was in 2016; its formal implementation in 2020.

Government efforts to increase fertility

This blog posting by Zwi Mowshowich reviews efforts by governments, such as Korea, Singapore, Australia and Hungary to increase birth rates. The author says that simple, uncomplicated financial incentives appear to increase birth rates by mid single digits. These incentives can include cash payments and (in Hungary’s case) lifetime exemption from income taxes for the mother of four children.

Hungary’s full program includes interest-free loans of 10 million forints (about $36,000) to married couples under 40, which can be partially or fully forgiven if they have children; providing subsidies for large families to buy cars and houses; and expanding childcare facilities and services.

The author says that pro-fertility policies can be very complicated efforts to socially engineer more births. However, another take on Hungary’s apparent success cites a wide ranges of factors:  “a basket of policy changes including tax preferences, cash grants, loan subsidies, constitutional protections, and costly political signaling.”

Mowshowich argues that effective programs can be affordable: “The core effort would, like Hungary’s, focus on giving parents money. The more it was direct, immediate transfers, the higher the impact would be. The more it was forced to tie into work requirements and be gradual over time, the less impact. Even then, there is every reason to expect a roughly linear dose-effect curve in reasonable bounds, and for the price to be highly affordable.”

That said, there is no evidence that government policy can come close to raising fertility rates from the 1.0 – 1.5 per woman level, now seen widely in advanced countries, to the 2.1 replacement rate.


States involved in approving immigrants?

Republican governors and congressmen have been promoting the concept of authorizing states to run their own immigration programs. These are generally designed for temporary work visas. The concept is in part based on Canada’s success with Province-based programs which lead to permanent residence approved by the national government, I have noted several times the proactive approach of Canada to immigration, where the inflow of permanent immigrants is as a rate of three times that of the U.S.

A key element in state or provincial immigration programs is how they bypass the immigration bureaucracy of the national governments.

Eric Holcomb, Republican governor of Indiana and Spencer Cox, Republican governor of Utah,called for the legal ability of state governments to sponsor immigrants (Washington Post):

“Indiana has about 220,000 open jobs right now and Utah has 107,000, according to the most recent federal data — more than 6 percent of all jobs in both states. With strong business and tax environments, we like our chances in the competition for job-seekers moving from other states. But they won’t be enough to fill all of those vacancies. We also need immigrants who are ready to work and help build strong communities.”

Canada has a visa program run by its provinces. The Canadian Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is an immigration program that allows Canadian provinces and territories to nominate individuals who are interested in immigrating to Canada and who possess the skills and experience needed to contribute to the economic growth of that province/territory. Under the PNP, each province or territory in Canada has its own unique set of eligibility criteria, selection process, and immigration streams that cater to specific industries and skill sets. These programs are designed to address the unique economic needs and opportunities of each region. Each province has its own set of eligibility requirements, which can include factors such as education, work experience, language proficiency, and adaptability.

Once a candidate meets the eligibility criteria, they may submit an application to the province or territory of their choice. If they are nominated by the province, they can then apply for Canadian permanent residence to the federal government.

Here is a 2017 evaluation of the Canadian program, giving it high marks,

Utah Congressman John Curtis introduced legislation in 2019 for a pilot state sponsor visa program for states to opt in and sponsor three-year visas. State would customize their visa allocations based on each state’s unique economy and needs. States could write compacts with other states to coordinate visas. States could use the visas to normalize unauthorized workers. Text of the bill here. Summary of the bill here.

The idea was promoted in The Atlantic in 2021.