Paying to Immigrate: Admission Fees vs. Surtaxes
By Bryan Caplan
As a half-way measure, pro-immigration economists often argue in favor of charging immigrants an admission fee. It’s better than not letting them in at all. But there are two big problems:
1. Admission fees are especially hard on low-skill immigrants. Even though their lifetime wage boost will far exceed any plausible admission fee, they won’t qualify for a loan without far more collateral than they’ll ever get their hands on.
2. Admission fees probably sound a lot like “bribes” to American voters. It almost sounds like we’re selling Americanness – an egregious taboo.
A better half-way measure: Instead of a flat admission fee, admit immigrants who agree to pay a surtax. E.g. they have to pay an extra 10 percentage points on their taxes. Advantages:
1. It solves the collateral problem for low-skill immigrants. They don’t need to come up with a big lump-sum payment, just find a job.
2. For reasons I don’t understand, voters are a lot less likely to see an immigration surtax as a “bribe.” Indeed, voters might even feel good to know that immigrants are “paying their dues.”
I don’t have much hope for either admission fees or surtaxes. But surtaxes seem like better policy and better politics. Am I wrong?