By Bryan Caplan
Almost everyone wants to heavily restrict immigration. Foreigners will take our jobs, go on welfare, poison our culture, and vote for socialism. But there’s one kind of foreigner almost every country welcomes: tourists. Sure, locals gripe about their cluelessness and clownishness. But almost no one wants to shoo tourists away.
Yes, visas and other regulations on tourism are well-established. Their chief rationale, however, is to prevent tourists from mutating into immigrants. From the State Department:
The required presumption under U.S. law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant until they demonstrate otherwise. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating:
• That the purpose of their trip is to enter the United States temporarily for business or pleasure;
• That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
• Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
• That they have a residence outside the United States as well as other binding ties that will ensure their departure from the U.S. at the end of the visit.
Requiring “evidence of funds to cover expenses” seems designed to prevent tourists from going on welfare or begging in the streets. All the other requirements, though, ultimately reflect a single goal: preventing foreigners from getting U.S. jobs. As long as they run around spending money on hotels, restaurants, and Disneyland, great! But we don’t want them to take jobs and start producing stuff for us.
The populist view, as you’re well-aware, is that immigrant workers are “taking jobs” that rightfully belong to natives. But you could just as easily accuse tourists of “taking stuff” – hotel rooms, restaurant meals, Disneyland tickets – that rightfully belong to natives. Selling stuff to foreigners is mutually beneficial? Then why isn’t producing stuff for natives mutually beneficial, too?
To explain this odd double standard, I once again accuse misanthropy. We readily welcome foreign money. Money, after all, can be exchanged for goods and services. But foreign people? Of what possible use are they? Just think of all the bad things a person might conceivably do or be. Shudder.
An economist might claim that the very fact that an immigrant lands a paying job is a strong sign that they’re useful to somebody. He could even insist that immigration drastically raises foreigners’ wages by drastically raising their productivity. But that’s just market fundamentalism. Move along, nothing to see here…