The liberal embrace of free trade delights in the diversity of foreign delights – exotic cuisine, international films, and far-flung vacations. However, liberalism faces a fracture when the influx of goods is paired with an influx of people. The demand for foreign goods is evident, but the enthusiasm for the individuals who produce them is considerably diminished. We cherish having holiday homes in the lands they hail from but are often averse to their presence in our own communities.
Nevertheless, when staunch migration critics voice their concerns, tensions simmer. Resisting immigration is seen as illiberal, and when such a hardliner happens to be the Home Secretary, who herself comes from an immigrant background, accusations abound. Is her stance driven by boldness or bigotry? The answer, as revealed by timely research from the United States, is complex, but not in the way one might expect.
The study in question, titled “Do Immigrants Ever Oppose Immigration?”, delves into the phenomenon of aversion to immigration among high-income immigrants. One of the surprising revelations of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was his strong support among a specific subset of minority ethnic groups, notably wealthy Hispanic Americans. It’s relatively easy to comprehend immigration resentment among low-income demographic voters, who may fear job competition. However, what motivates doctors and lawyers insulated from such competition? According to the survey, high-income immigrants are concerned about issues like “unemployment, crime, and the risk of a terrorist attack”. This finding, in isolation, may not be surprising.
What sets this attitude study apart is its comparison of US respondents with respondents in corresponding demographic segments in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In these countries, aversion to immigration is significantly lower. The study attributes this difference to varying immigration policies; in all three countries, barriers to immigration are considerably higher than in the USA. This suggests that immigration aversion is not necessarily about rejecting immigrants but rather a response to the absence of stringent vetting procedures. Consequently, as entry requirements become more stringent, resistance to immigration is likely to decrease.
The study dispels certain misconceptions about the underlying motivations of high-income resident ethnics’ aversion to immigration. One such misconception is that high-status immigrants assimilate into their host culture by internalizing native social biases and overcompensating in their compliance with the majority culture. Another misconception is that successful immigrants feel no obligation to make life easier for those who arrive later, as they had to navigate their way independently. The study reveals that the stance of high-status immigrants is indeed unique.
Immigration has shaped their experience, and they remain attuned to how the majority perceives them. They also worry that an influx of low-status ethnics might tarnish the status of high-status ethnics.
However, there’s more to their perspective. High-status ethnics straddle two worlds, the native and the ethnic. Their integration into the majority culture inclines them to anticipate that natives will generalize about all immigrants if issues with immigrants increase. Consequently, high-status ethnics are more likely to speak out against immigration than high-status natives because they possess a better understanding of the composition of the immigrant population. High-status immigrants, precisely because they navigate both native and immigrant cultures, are more attuned than natives to the risks associated with open borders.
One could nitpick the way the authors have designed their study, perhaps by including additional comparator countries. Nonetheless, their work provides readers on this side of the Atlantic with valuable insights, especially in the midst of the ongoing Suella Braverman controversy.