Immigrants And The Welfare State

It is common to hear people groaning about how immigrants are supposedly abusing our welfare system. There are numerous anecdotes (but never actual facts) involving immigrants being put ahead of natives. Allegedly, hordes of undeserving lazy foreigners are robbing us blind while the government stands idly by. None of this is supported by the evidence. In truth, study after study has found that do not harm the local economy but rather benefit it. There are twice as many natives (as a percentage) on welfare in Ireland as immigrants.

Migration is a risky and expensive move. It involves giving up everything and everyone you know and moving to a foreign country with strange culture, custom and language. It is very expensive especially if done illegally and through the use of smuggling gangs. It is extremely dangerous. Every year numerous people die attempting to cross the Mexican desert or the Mediterranean Sea. It seems strange that someone would go to such enormous risks only to sit around all day on the dole. As they probably accured large debts it’s more likely that they get a job to pay it off rather than relying on rather low welfare payments. The meagre social welfare payments simply do not compensate an immigrant for separate from home, friends and family. Philippe Legrain says according to the stereotype “immigrants would have to be enterprising enough to migrate in the first place but then suddenly lose all their drive once they arrive in a rich country.”

Demographics play a large part in it. Most immigrants are healthy and in the prime working age (20s and 30s). They usually do not bring their families along, which is important because the most generous welfare benefits are for children. Young healthy people do not need many services; they are already educated unlikely to need a hospital. In fact they are net contributors to their host country as they pay tax yet receive little in return, especially if they return home before reaching retirement age.

Immigrants rarely claim welfare because they are often denied it. In America immigrants cannot receive federal welfare benefits until being in the country for at least five years. They cannot receive food stamp until they become citizens. The only benefits they can receive are school lunches and emergency medical procedures. In addition to the many rules barring immigrants many who are entitled to benefits do not apply because they are not aware of them or do not know how to get them. This is especially the case with poorly educated immigrants who may not speak the local language. Illegal immigrants also do not use government services for fear of being caught and deported.

Studies find that immigrants contribute more than they take out of the welfare state. A study by the British Home Office in 2000 found immigrants contributed 10% more in taxes than they cost in spending. The American Academy Of Sciences found that the average foreign born resident was a net recipient of $3,000 over their lifetime (a figure infinitely smaller than any anti-immigrant claim) and their children had a net contribution of $80,000 (that’s right immigrant children contributed to the economy, something no anti-immigrant campaigner will tell you). In Germany the average immigrant is estimated to contribute 55,400 over their lifetime.

Immigrants could be crucial help to the economic problem of Europe and America’s ageing population. As people are living for longer this will increase pension spending while tax revenues decreases due to declining population. In fact without immigration Europe’s population will decline over the coming decades. We may become dependent on young immigrants to pay for the pensions of natives. Rather than being a problem, immigrants could be the solution.

It is a myth that immigrants are abusing the welfare system. Across the EU, in 14 out of 19 countries natives received more welfare benefits than immigrants. Immigrants still receive fewer benefits than locals after taking account of age, sex, education and family size. There is no link between immigration and welfare generosity. A study by the ESRI has found that immigrants increased Irish GNP by 3.7% in the 90s and decreased unemployment by 0.5%. Immigrants aren’t sponging off our welfare system, they are contributing towards it.


Filed under Economics

7 responses to “Immigrants And The Welfare State

  1. Interesting. How is the population in Europe decreasing (without taking into account immigration), out of interest?

  2. Great post, I hadn’t seen stats on other immigrants, besides those from Mexico. However, I live in Arizona and immigration is a BIG problem here. The Center for Immigration Studies did a study of 8 Welfare programs, SSI, Temporary Assistance (both cash programs), WIC, Free and reduced lunch program,food stamps, medicaid, and public housing and rent subsidized housing and found that illegals account for 62% of those on Welfare in Arizona.

    • While I can’t comment on studies I haven’t read (though I would appreciate if you could send me a link to the source), I thought illegals immigrants weren’t eligible for welfare? I thought most avoided public services for fear they would be detected and deported. 62% sounds like an extremely high number

      • I just posted the link on my blog under Welfare Use by Immigrant Households with Children. Illegal Immigration here in Arizona is a BIG problem. I am sure you are aware of what has been going on with Gov Brewer and SB1070 and President Obama suing the state. Now he might sue again because our Gov won’t ignore Arizona laws on issuance of Drivers licenses and eligibility for welfare to those seeking amnesty under Obama’s Dream Act.
        I have to tell you I am impressed with you blog. I really respect your views and look forward to more.

  3. Good post. The way I judge the accusations is by going by Home Dept at 6 in the morning and checking out the day laborers….so far there has been NO white guys dying to go to work…..they are NOT stealing jobs….the jobs they do get is because of the superior work ethic, IMO.

  4. I wanted to add to my view on this. I live in Arizona as I said before. My daughter attended public school. When the state does it’s Census illegal immigrants to not participate. The Census is used to determine funding for each school district based on how many students live in each district. My daughters school’s student body is about 30 percent illegal immigrants.. The money alloted for her school based on a student count of (I am estimating) say 700 students when there are actually 1000. 2 years ago they had to let 2 teachers go, they cut the National Junior Honor Society program, cut other honors classes and eliminated the theatre program due to lack of funding. The cafeteria actually ran out of food almost daily. They had to hire 2 new teachers however for English as a second language classes. For all school events, pta meetings and such interpreters are hired for the non-english speaking parents. I won’t even go into how much is spent on printing the back sides of all paperwork in spanish, the printing of all handouts in spanish etc.
    Whether or not illegal immigrants work hard is not the issue here. Obviously the government needs to fix the immigration laws but the bottom line is that they are here illegally. If I do something illegal I go to jail. They don’t. If I can’t produce a government issued id I can’t get welfare benefits. They don’t have to have a US ID. If I can’t provide proof of residency I can’t register my daughter in public school. They can.

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