Why is the U.S. Falling Behind in Immigration?

George Borjas writes:

We always tend to think of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” About 12% of the U.S. population today is foreign-born. It is eye-opening to put this number in perspective. Just look at some of the data collected by the U.N.:

Ireland, 14.1% foreign-born
Sweden, 12.4%
United Kingdom, 9.1%
Greece, 8.8%
Spain, 11.1%
Austria, 15.1%
France, 10.7%
Germany, 12.3%
Netherlands, 10.1%
Switzerland, 22.9%

That’s percentage of the population foreign-born. The U.S. is even more of a laggard in inflows of foreign nationals as a percentage of population. Here is a graph from the OECD factbook:

Inflow of Foreign Nationals as a Percentage of Total Population among OECD Countries, 2004

[Click for full graph]

I’ve been poring over national quality of life statistics for the past two years now, and I can tell you for sure that Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada are much better places to live for the average person, in terms of QoL indicators, than the countries at the bottom the list. Part of it is that immigrants know what they’re doing: they go where the opportunity is. Part of it is that high immigrant in-flows are a vital part of a thriving economy and society.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center