Effective Immigration

This is Solution #6 on my list of The World’s Biggest Problems.


Introduction

Idea: Make it easy to immigrate to places where we need more people.

Plan: Expand existing visa programs to accept millions more immigrants per year.

  1. Create fast tracks to immigration for young graduates and professionals.
    • Offer EB1 visas to every founder funded by a US startup accelerator.
      • Minimum funding could be set at $100K+ per founder.
    • Expand EB2 visa eligibility to anyone with a STEM degree.
      • Current employment-based visas are biased towards those with advanced degrees and/or 10+ years of work experience.
  2. Increase annual international student visas by 10X+.
    • End all caps on student visas for international students (e.g. F1).
    • Create a clear legal path for F1 graduates to earn a Green Card.
  3. Offer place-based visa programs to recruit immigrants to shrinking regions.
    • Expand the Diversity Visa program to accept 1M+ immigrants per year in specific areas.
      • The DV program currently has 10M+ applicants per year for only 50,000 spots.

Goal: Prove that immigration is positive for both immigrants and host communities.

  • Effective immigration is both morally and economically good.
    • When a new immigrant family moves in next door, their lives improve and ours do too.
      • Immigrants pay taxes and work and shop at local businesses.
      • Immigrants are our friends and family.
        • We all know immigrants who have made our lives better.
          • We owe it to the next generation to keep our doors open.
  • America needs more people!

Note: I’m American, so I mostly wrote this post from a US perspective. I’ve also cited European and World statistics to show that effective immigration would be a net-positive for any country.


The Economic Case for Immigration:

Trend: The majority of Americans still oppose increasing immigration.

  • Only one in three Americans currently believe that immigration should be increased.
    • As recently as 2002, that number was as low as 8%.
  • Only 47% of Democrats support increased immigration.
    • Versus 21% support from Independents and 11% support from Republicans.
  • I’m making the economic case first to appeal directly to this majority.
    • I will make my (preferred) moral case for immigration in the next section.
Source: 2022 Gallup Report on Immigration

Fact #1: Immigration is a net positive for both immigrants and their host communities.

  • A 3% increase in the labor force of developed countries would lead to $300B in gains for immigrants and $51B in net benefits for host country residents.
    • These benefits dwarf the estimated $70B per year in total international aid spending.
      • America has also spent over $300B since 2003 on immigration enforcement.
  • Economists have estimated that open borders would increase total world GDP by 50–150%.

Fact #2: Immigrants actually create more jobs than they “take”.

  • 35%+ of all new companies formed in America have at least one immigrant founder.
    • 55% of all US billion dollar startups have at least one immigrant founder.
  • Each additional immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local residents.
  • Immigrants start new companies at a 80% higher rate than native-born Americans.
Source: Effects of Immigration on Entrepreneurship and Innovation by Robert Krol

Fact #3: Immigrants bring new creativity and innovation with them.

  • Immigrants make up 12% of the US population but account for 26% of US Nobel Prize recipients and 25% of the founders of public venture-backed companies.
  • A 1% increase in immigrant college graduates’ percentage increases patents per capita by 9-18%.
    • This effect goes beyond the immigrants themselves, actually increasing the inventive capacity of native-born creators too.
  • Immigrant children are highly overrepresented in academic, scientific, and musical competitions.
Source: High-skilled immigration and the growing concentration of US innovation

Fact #4: Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native citizens.

Source: Comparing crime rates between undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants, and native-born US citizens in Texas by Michael Light

The Moral Case for Immigration:

Freedom of movement should be a fundamental human right.

  • How many lives would be different if we respected this freedom globally?
    • Over 40% of adults in the poorest quartile of countries “would like to move permanently to another country” if they had the chance.
  • “Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.”  — Epictetus

Immigration should be a fast, fair, transparent process open to all.

  • The average age of new US immigrants increased from 26 in 2000 to 31 in 2019.
  • When we force people through a 10+ year immigration process, we sap energy from them right when they could be most productive and creative.
  • Time is of the essence.
    • Many of the world’s greatest discoveries were made early in creators’ lives during a miracle year.
      • We risk losing these creations every time we delay or block an immigrant’s free movement.

Immigration rapidly solves the money problem for millions of people.

  • How many great inventors, artists, activists, etc. have we lost to poverty?
    • We need to free millions more people to reach their full potential.
  • 3.4 billion people worldwide still struggle to meet basic needs.
    • How many Lost Einsteins have we created due to closed borders and poverty?
      • We owe it to them and ourselves to find and free more of these people.

Closed borders are one of the greatest remaining barriers to maximizing human potential.

  • Opening borders can spark new relationships and spread big ideas.
    • Ambitious people seek out like-minded collaborators and end up in the same cities.
      • If we want more Silicon Valleys, we need more open borders.

We can unlock peoples’ hidden ambition by quickly moving them to freer areas.

  • This is a meta solution to The World’s Biggest Problems.
    • By solving people’s money, ambition, and access problems, we can free them to create new solutions for others, paying it forward in a positive feedback loop.
  • “For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom.” — Albert Einstein
    • Einstein famously immigrated to America as a German refugee in December 1932, one month before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

We all have stories of immigrants who have changed our lives.

  • My parents are immigrants.
    • My Indian American dad came here for education, created hundreds of jobs, and now represents Detroit in the state legislature.
  • My wife is an immigrant.
    • My wife’s family came to America from Thailand as refugees when she was four years old.
      • Her parents worked 50+ hour weeks for 20+ years as auto workers and raised six kids (now with ten degrees between them!).
  • My co-founders are immigrants.
    • I founded Labdoor with two Brazilian immigrants who now run the company as CEO and CTO, and are now about to become US citizens!
  • Let’s make millions more stories like this and improve our communities at the same time!

Three Plans to Increase Immigration Effectively:

Problem #1: Too many of the world’s most ambitious people are stuck in places where it’s hard to succeed.

  • Immigrants often spend 10+ years of their lives struggling to become a citizen of a new country.
    • We should accept more people wanting to immigrate faster so they can thrive in America.
  • Free movement of people allows more like-minded talented people to work together.
    • Access to co-founders, employees, and capital often depends on location and/or citizenship.

Solution #1: Create fast tracks to immigration for high potential people.

  • Give EB-1 Visas to anyone accepted by startup accelerators like Y Combinator.
    • Could require a minimum of $100K in funding per founder to be eligible.
  • Expand the EB-2 definition beyond “exceptional ability”.
    • The current definition relies heavily on having an advanced degree or 10+ years of work experience.
    • Applicants should get credit for other forms of education and entrepreneurial experiences like internships, independent projects, and startups.

Problem #2: COVID and anti-immigration policies have caused a >10% drop of international students in America.

  • We now have less than 1 million international students in the United States.
    • How much better would America be with 10+ million international students?
  • America hurts itself when it limits student visas from specific countries.
    • International students in America directly contribute $40B+ a year to our economy.
      • 75% of these students intend to stay in the United States after graduation.
        • 51.6% of international students are in STEM fields.
    • Nearly one-quarter (21 of 91) of all U.S. billion dollar startups had a founder who was an international student.
Source: Statista

Solution #2: End all caps on student visas for international students.

  • Expand the F1 Visa program to cover anyone who is accepted into a US College.
    • Exempt all student visas from the total annual limit for legal immigrants.
  • Create a clear legal path for F1 graduates to earn a Green Card.
    • F1 graduates should be able to stay in America, apply for jobs, and start their Green Card process as long as they get a job within 6-12 months of graduation.
  • Education is one of America’s biggest advantages and attractions.
    • American colleges and universities are a magnet for top global talent.
      • I’m here with the privilege to start startups and write this book because my parents got graduate student visas to come to America in the ’70s.

Problem #3: Most cities and countries need more people anyways!

  • Demographic decline causes a death spiral for areas with slow growing or declining economies.
    • Every developed country currently has fertility rates below the 2.1 children per woman replacement rate.
    • Rust Belt cities like Detroit have lost over 50% of their peak population.
      • This makes it harder to support existing infrastructure and build anything new.
  • The worst neighbor is a vacant home.
    • A vacant home is a signal, literal broken windows that invite crime and deter new residents.
    • Cities like Detroit would be much healthier, safer, and vibrant with 1,000,000+ residents again.
    • Immigration solves these issues for America while improving immigrants’ lives.

Solution #3: Create place-based visa programs to recruit immigrants to shrinking regions.

  • Accept 1M+ more new immigrants per year nationwide through place-based visas targeting shrinking US areas.
    • Example: Detroit would happily take 500K+ immigrants in the next decade who are willing to live and work in the city.
      • Idea: Allocate 50K new place-based visas to Detroit each year.
      • FYI: Detroit’s population is down 1.2M+ people from its peak.
  • See: Heartland Visas
    • A proposal to allow specific American communities to opt-into hosting new immigrants.
    • Host communities would be able to opt-into accepting specific classes of immigrants.
      • Example: students, entrepreneurs, white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, etc.
        • This will be popular with host communities and easier to pass politically.
  • Canada and Australia already have place-based visa programs.
Source: U.S. Census, 1920-2020, via Citizens Research Council of Michigan

Impact:

Example: Imagine a family of four moving from Lagos, Nigeria to Detroit, Michigan.

  • They are not taking anyone’s jobs.
  • They’ll immediately contribute to our local economy.
    • Assume $50K total annual family income.
      • One adult works full-time, the other works part-time.
    • Almost all of that $50K goes back into the US economy.
      • Immigrants pay for taxes, rent, gas, groceries, etc., almost all locally.
  • They’re not taking anyone’s land or homes.
    • 17% of Detroit’s land is vacant.
    • Detroit’s residential vacancy rate is 26%.

Trend: More than half of all US counties shrunk from 2010 to 2020.

  • These regions need place-based visas to reverse demographic and migration trends.
    • Over 10 million people per year apply to the Diversity Immigrant Visa program for a chance at one of 50,000 immigrant visas given out through this lottery.
      • We should expand this lottery to 1M+ people per year and offer them place-based visas.
  • 86% of Americans now live in metropolitan areas.
    • 81% of all US metro areas grew in this same period.
      • The overall US population increased 7.4% in this period, showing the power of this concentrated growth.
    • US federal and state governments can incentivize more immigrants to move to shrinking counties through business and land grants and financing.
Source: US Census Report, August 12, 2021

Mission: Unlock the potential of millions of immigrants to solve The World’s Biggest Problems.

  • Immigration solves many of these problems, including the top three: money, ambition, and access.
    • This frees many more people to solve the rest of our biggest problems.
  • Immigration rapidly improves the lives of immigrants and their families.
    • It’s easy to get lost in all these big statistics, but the biggest gains are personal.
  • The gains from open borders will lead to many advances we can’t predict now.

Vision: America is still the land of education and opportunity.

  • We would be a better country with one billion Americans.
    • We have the land, we have the resources, and we need the talent.
    • America grew from 100M to 333M people in the last 107 years.
      • This has been America’s golden age of growth, wealth, and innovation.
      • We should triple again in the next 100 years.
  • Let’s live the values we celebrate.
    • “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.” — Robert F. Kennedy
  • Each new immigrant brings new potential and a cascade of positives.
    • Let’s celebrate immigrants’ success and fight for more immigration access for future generations.

Summary:

Effective immigration is both morally right and economically sound.

  • Immigration improves a family’s whole life trajectory.
    • This is one of the fastest, most impactful ways to change someone’s life for the better.
  • Immigrants grow our economies and spur new innovation and business creation.
    • More immigrants means more growth which means more abundance for all.
  • We owe it to future generations to fight for all peoples’ rights and freedoms.
    • “Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Effective Immigration is Solution #6 on my list of The World’s Biggest Problems.

  • This idea is a work in progress. DM me @neilthanedar if you’d like to riff on these ideas!

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is an entrepreneur, investor, scientist, altruist, and author. He is the founder & CEO of Utopic, his startup studio. He is also the founder & chairman of Air to All, a 501(c)3 nonprofit medical device startup, and Labdoor, a consumer watchdog with $7M+ in funding and 20M+ users. He previously co-founded Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has worked with community organizations since 2007 and political campaigns since 2016 to fight for better education and economic opportunities in Michigan.