Consider the evidence. In 2004 and 2007, the European Union admitted 10 much poorer, ex-Communist countries. Since European Union citizens have the right to move freely across the union, all 100 million people in those Central and Eastern Europe states could have migrated to the richer countries.
Open doors tend to be revolving ones. America’s historical experience confirms that.
Until the 1950s, when the United States scarcely controlled its border with Mexico, Mexicans crossed to do seasonal work, but few settled. Most people prefer not to uproot themselves. Moreover, wages that migrants earn in a rich country stretch further in a poor one. And someone who works abroad has higher status back home, whereas immigrants start at the bottom of the social heap in a rich country.
But if there were a big increase in immigration, either through an open-door policy or because more foreign workers and refugees were admitted, what would its impact be?
The sudden arrival in Israel in the early ’90s of many Russian-speaking Jews after the collapse of the Soviet Union provides an extreme example. These migrants mostly didn’t speak Hebrew, had no experience of capitalism and moved for political reasons rather than because their labor was in demand.
The newcomers raised Israel’s working-age population by 8 percent over just two years, and by 15 percent over seven. This would be equivalent to 50 million foreigners of working age arriving in the European Union. Did unemployment soar and wages collapse?
No; after seven years, the unemployment rate was lower and wages were at their previous levels. This is because there isn’t a fixed number of jobs to go around, and new arrivals create additional demand for others’ work. The labor influx also stimulated an investment boom that soon restored wages.