A Family Stream
Economic migration and family migration serve different ends, but both are important. While people moving to a country to join family members may not do as well as skilled economic migrants, the purpose of family migration is less tangible.
“It may have economic impact; it may have economic benefits or costs, but the goals of family migration is ensuring family unity,” said Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.
Supporters of this type of migration point out the intangible benefits that families provide: a support network for new arrivals, child care for relatives, and even loans for businesses.
So countries shouldn’t necessarily focus overwhelmingly on economic migrants. “The thing that people forget is that a lot of the partners of skilled migrants are family migrants, but they’re also skilled, and over time, family migrants also contribute to the economy,” Anna Boucher, the co-author of Crossroads: Immigration Regimes in an Age of Demographic Change, said.
Indeed, few people would seriously argue that the United States has been hurt economically by its preference for family migration. It remains the world’s largest economy and among its most competitive.
There are, however, questions to resolve. Chief among them: What, exactly, is a family? That question is at the heart of the debate over Trump’s plan for immigration reform. The U.S. has a broader definition of a family than other rich countries. It allows Americans, including those who became citizens through naturalization, to sponsor parents, spouses, children (both minor and adult), and siblings. Other countries are far more restrictive, usually allowing a citizen or recent immigrant to bring just a nuclear family along and, in some cases, parents.
A Humanitarian Stream
Refugees are a tiny part of a rich country’s immigration system. The overwhelming majority—about 85 percent—of the world’s 25 million registered refugees live in developing nations, often in camps near their home countries. According to United Nations data, less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled in rich countries each year, mostly in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Nordic countries.
That hasn’t prevented refugees from being the focus of intense political debate in Europe and the U.S., primarily because they are often poor, have limited skills, and are viewed by their critics as taking up resources in the host country. (This is to say nothing of fears, however unfounded, that extremists may be using the system to slip into Western countries.) But some governments have made the bet that accepting refugees today could pay off in the future.
Read: Are immigrants prone to crime and terrorism?
Take Sweden, for instance. Amid the surge of migrants to Europe in 2015, it received more asylum-seekers per capita than any other European country, and this has definitely put pressure on its immigration system. The country’s immigration system is mostly humanitarian in nature, and the unemployment rate among the foreign-born (who are not necessarily all refugees) is 20 percent, more than three times the national level.