The Melting Pot That Isn't: Why America Needs Better Immigration

President Obama is putting immigration reform front and center on the political agenda, bringing together political, business, and religious leaders in a major White House meeting on Tuesday to focus on "fixing our nation's broken immigration system for our 21st-century economic and national security needs." But America's status as a magnet for immigrants already appears to be slipping, according to a new comprehensive measure developed by the British Council and the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group.

The Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) rates the EU nations' (plus Norway, Switzerland, Canada, and the U.S. -- 31 countries in all) efforts to integrate immigrants according to 148 policy indicators, which range from opportunities for education and political participation to levels of protection against discrimination, from prospects for reuniting with family to the likelihood of achieving permanent residence status and citizenship.

For those keeping score, Sweden ranked first, Portugal second, and Canada third. The U.S. was ninth! The map below shows the scores for the 31 countries measured by the Index.

This new Index is an important advance in the way we measure openness to immigrants.  Previous studies, including my own previous work on the subject, for example, in The Flight of the Creative Class, gauge openness or tolerance by measuring the share of immigrants in the general population, or more commonly, with reference to surveys of attitudes toward immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, or other excluded groups. The MIPEX measures something different and deeper -- the degree to which nations successfully integrate and proactively include immigrants. Still it is closely correlated with those other measures of openness and tolerance, such as Gallup surveys which measure openness to ethnic and racial minorities (.66) and to gays and lesbians (.68).

It's about more than generosity and big-heartedness. Immigrants are, in fact, key to economic growth and development, especially in our high-tech industries. Immigrants "have started 52% of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed to more than 25% of our global patents, according to Vivek Wadhwa, who has extensively studied the subject. "They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding bachelor's degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have Ph.Ds." This is what venture capitalist John Doerr was talking about when he told an interviewer at the Web 2.0 Summit that America should "staple a green card to the diploma" of any immigrant who gets a degree in engineering.

In that spirit, I asked my colleague Charlotta Mellander to compare the MIPEX scores to a variety of other measures that have been seen to have a strong bearing on prosperity:  economic output, innovation, entrepreneurship, and the broader happiness of nations. With our usual caveat that our analysis only points to associations between variables, that we do not make any claims about causation, these scatter charts tell an intriguing story.

Nations that are more accepting of and better at integrating new immigrants have a higher level of economic growth and development. The MIPEX is closely correlated to a common measure of economic development -- the level of GDP per capita (.5). The MIPEX is also closely correlated with the UN's comprehensive measure of overall economic, social, and human development -- the  Human Development Index (.56).

Presented by

Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More

Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here

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