The Importance of Immigration

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Immigration is one of the world’s oldest and most widely practiced forms of political and economic migration. Historically, it has had immense social and economic benefits for states. But it also brings challenges, particularly for the immigrants themselves. Learning a new language, mastering a complex culture, and coping with everyday life in a strange place can be daunting. And the memory of family and friends left behind can fuel feelings of homesickness.

Whether they’re legally authorized or not, immigrants are part of America’s population and often play a vital role in the economy. Across the country, immigrant communities are a major source of high-tech workers and construction professionals, for example. And they are especially concentrated in some key occupations: Forty-four percent of medical scientists and 42 percent of computer software developers are foreign born, according to the George W. Bush Institute.

The word “immigrant” has many definitions, but in general it refers to a person who lives in a country other than the one where he or she was born. The term can apply to anyone who has moved from a home country for any reason, including those who travel for work, study or retirement. It can include those who have become citizens of a different nation, those who are married to a citizen or have children who are naturalized, as well as those who are undocumented.

Around the globe, an estimated 3.4 percent of the population is an international migrant. They live in countries other than the ones where they were born, and about three-quarters of them move between low-income nations. And the number of migrants has been rising in recent decades, though it has slowed down in some regions.

In the United States, about 800,000 people settle here each year through a variety of legal channels: 480,000 to reunite with spouses, parents and children; 140,000 to fill jobs that the government has determined can’t be filled by Americans; 55,000 to enter through the diversity lottery; and 85,000 to receive asylum because they have been persecuted or fear persecution in their homelands. But many more live in the country without documents.

Like all citizens, immigrants have the same basic rights, including freedom of speech and religion, the right to privacy, and equal treatment under the law. They pay taxes that fund government actions, from improving schools to building roads and modernizing water systems, and are less likely than the general population to use welfare services. Many are business owners, and their purchasing power helps keep local economies competitive. Moreover, in a dynamic process known as “comparative advantage,” immigrants boost economic growth by driving productivity gains and raising the wages of complementary workers. They also help revitalize cities and towns that might otherwise lose their residents, and they play a critical role in the development of many far-flung rural communities. As a result, immigration has been a major driver of the nation’s economic and demographic change over the past century.