In a recent opinion piece in Foreign Policy – a publication dedicated primarily to global affairs – Philippe Legrain argues that immigrants are in the forefront of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and that we need more migration to revive Western economies in a post-coronavirus world. Of course, there is nothing particularly novel or original about Mr. Legrain’s special pleadings – nor is it surprising coming from a globalist outlet like Foreign Policy – but it is nevertheless important to address the argument because the open-borders/pro-mass-migration crowd continues to push the narrative.
Before we discuss the article, a few words about its author are in order. An economist, Mr. Legrain describes himself as a “cosmopolitan Londoner,” opposes Brexit, and is a cheerleader for globalism and mass migration. From 2011 to 2014, he also served as the principal adviser to the president of the European Commission.
The title of Mr. Legrain’s op-ed – “The Coronavirus Is Killing Westerners. Immigrants Are Saving Them” – encapsulates the heart of his simplistic and misleading thesis. He also bemoans the fact that even though immigrants, and in particular “foreign-born doctors and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of fighting the pandemic and resuscitating economies,” so-called “nativist politicians still want to keep them out.”
In the context of recent news about early results showing that a COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech is more than 90 percent effective, Mr. Legrain argues that “the world has Turkish immigrants to Germany to thank for it.” He emphasizes that “Ugur Sahin, the co-founder and chief executive of BioNTech, a German biotech start-up, arrived in Germany as a child. He is the son of an auto worker who came to Germany as part of its postwar guest worker program. BioNTech’s chief medical officer, Ozlem Tureci, who is Sahin’s wife, is the daughter of a Turkish doctor who also moved to Germany.”
He then rattles off a list of companies – from Moderna through Zoom to tech start-ups – whose founders were either immigrants or in which immigrants play important roles. Last but not least, Mr. Legrain touts the work of foreign-born doctors and nurses fighting the battle against the coronavirus while offering the familiar apologia for mass low-skilled migration, mentioning “key workers who pick and pack food, stack supermarket shelves, provide home deliveries, and toil long hours in Amazon warehouses. They are the people who clean hospitals and public transport systems.”
None of the above is necessarily false. But what Mr. Legrain omits is just as important as what he advertises. Few would deny that there are many well-educated and hard-working immigrants – and their children – who are doing great things to help their host societies, or that there are plenty of immigrants (and natives!) performing “essential” tasks during the pandemic. However, that is by no means the full picture.
Mass migration – both in the U.S. and in Europe – also brings in its wake problems and pathologies that Mr. Legrain did not mention. For instance, he is silent on immigrants and refugees burdening Western welfare systems (and using other services), migrant crime (including rapes and sexual assaults), or terrorism. Nor does he mention that the vast majority of immigrants – at least here in the U.S. – are not selected for skills or accomplishments but rather through chain migration.
In other words, he is attempting to sell mass migration and open borders to his readers by employing a fallacy, i.e. attributing the characteristics of a subset of the immigrant population to the entire immigrant population (FAIR has debunked this fallacy before).
That is similar to attempting to sell a house with multiple problems solely on the basis of showing a beautiful, modern kitchen. The good news is that, in the case of immigration, we actually can enjoy the benefits of immigration that Mr. Legrain touts while significantly reducing the downsides which he completely omits. We can do that by lowering overall immigration levels, and in particular significantly reducing low-skilled migration, while making immigration much more merit-based.
Sadly, Mr. Legrain is skeptical of merit-based immigration. “Sahin could hardly have been selected by the skills-based immigration policies that many governments in rich countries increasingly favor,” he writes. “Indeed, if he hadn’t moved to Germany as a child, the world might never have realized what it had missed out on. For all Sahin’s individual brilliance, he is unlikely to have achieved as much had he not moved to Germany, benefited from an excellent scientific education, and seized the greater research and business opportunities available there.”
That may sound convincing at a very superficial level, but – like the rest of his arguments – begins to fall apart under closer analysis. The main problem is that it is highly speculative and based on wishful thinking: let us bring in as many immigrants as possible, including masses of low-skilled ones, in the hope that some of their children may one day become great scientists or entrepreneurs. Yes, a few may – and their successes should obviously be celebrated – but sustained mass low-skilled immigration also has significant economic and social costs, including overcrowded public schools and deteriorating education levels for both native-born and immigrant children. Reihan Salam, a son of Bangladeshi immigrants, even argues that it could ultimately lead to major civil strife.
Have Mr. Legrain – and many others making similar claims – merely not thought through the implications of their argument? That is possible, but unlikely. It is probable that, like other globalists, he either simply does not care or assumes that the upsides outweigh the downsides. After all, the globalist elites reap many of the financial and political profits of mass migration while ordinary citizens are often left holding the bag. Either way, Mr. Legrain’s op-ed is a primary, classic example of how the open-borders chattering class attempts to manipulate Western publics into applauding policies that in many ways harm them.