What do Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Freddie Mercury have in common? They were refugees who have made extraordinary contributions in their fields. Societies who welcome refugees and migrants benefit from the contributions they make and the jobs they create. Opening our doors to migrants, rather than detaining them on Manus Island or elsewhere, would make us far wealthier.
Host countries benefit from refugees’ contributions. In 1999, Dr Munjed Al Muderis, anIraqi refugee, fled Saddam Hussein’s regime because he refused a command to cut off the ears of Iraqi army deserters. Today, Dr Al Muderis is an Australian professor of orthopaedic surgery who has developed new implant-based prosthetic limbs. Australian society needs more doctors because we have an aging population. Immigration addresses this by making services like medical care more readily available.
Immigrants also create local jobs by setting up new businesses. One American study finds that, statistically, immigrants are twice as likely to set up businesses. Some 27.5 per cent of American businesspeople are immigrants, whereas they make up only 13 per cent of its population. Google, for example, is now a multi-billion dollar company with 72,000 employees that changed the world partly due to its refugee co-founder, Sergey Brin. An Australian study finds that almost 10 per cent of refugees run businesses. Immigrants and refugees often possess key entrepreneurial traits. This should not be surprising: immigration often involves risk-taking, strategic thinking and hard work.
When local workers are in short supply, local businesses can hire immigrants to grow. This too can help locals. Entrepreneur Jonathan Barouch notes that IT businesses face recruitment problems because “technical roles such as software engineers, product managers and user interface and user experience experts are incredibly difficult to fill locally.” Hiring experienced immigrant programmers to fill the gap means they can work with locals and supervise trainees. The company also avoids moving overseas, which would hurt locals. Immigrant workers benefit both local workers and customers.
Australia’s unending economic growth for the last two decades is also partly due to its openness to immigration. Immigrants make up over half of Australia’s population growth for the last two decades and a quarter of its population. The most recent Western Australian mining boom, a key contributor to economic survival during the global financial crisis, was powered by migrant workers which businesses hired to expand operations. Consequently, about one-third of Western Australians are now immigrants.
Studies have also repeatedly shown that immigration does not generally affect local unemployment, job security or wages. That’s because the economy does not have a fixed amount of jobs for people to compete for. Immigration increases the number of jobs available because immigrants are new customers for local businesses. This helps businesses grow in response to increased demand for goods and services.
While immigration increases demand for infrastructure and housing, it also encourages businesses to build more. After all, there would be very little infrastructure and very low living standards if the population consisted of two men and a series of tumbleweeds. Rather than cutting immigration, we should encourage more construction to reduce housing prices and infrastructure shortages.
Helping refugees doesn’t have to hit taxpayers’ wallets. If charities could privately fund more refugee arrivals, taxpayers wouldn’t have to spend billions of dollars to detain refugees on Manus Island or Nauru. Canadian charities have funded over two hundred thousand refugees’ travel and long-term living costs over the last thirty years. One Canadian businessman, Jim Estill, gave over $1 million to help over 200 Syrian refugees with housing, as well as English lessons and help with setting up businesses so as to reduce reliance on welfare. An Australian pilot scheme allows up to 1,000 privately funded refugees to enter Australia this year. Anyone should be allowed to privately host a migrant or pay for their living expenses.
Nor would helping refugees on Manus or Nauru encourage others to use unsafe boats to arrive here provided carrier liability laws are repealed. As Asher Hirsch notes, these laws impose fines on airlines for carrying passengers without visas to Australia. That’s why refugees don’t simply buy a plane ticket they or a charity could otherwise afford. We can ‘stop the boats’ by repealing these laws.
Opening our doors to migrants and refugees allows them to benefit their host countries. It allows refugees to save themselves from war. We could welcome the next tech giant founder or a surgeon to grow our economy or save lives. Welcoming refugees is not just the right thing to do; it creates jobs and is good for the economy.
Vladimir “Zeev” Vinokurov is a solicitor. The views expressed here are his own.
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