United States now a popular destination for migrants

Pakistanis have added to the millions crossing America’s southern border and seeking asylum in the United States

Shahid Javed Burki September 19, 2022
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

As I wrote in a recent article in this space, people have always moved, leaving their homes and settling in places quite distant from where they have lived. But migrants have also crossed international borders. The ‘instant city of Karachi’ — this is the title of a book by the American journalist Steve Inskeep — was built by migrants from the interior of the country who, having done their job, stayed on picking up employment in other parts of a rapidly growing economy. But Karachi also received about 4 million Muslims who left India and moved into Pakistan.

Millions of people who have moved in recent years have left their homes looking for security; a large number of them have gone to Europe and North America. Despite the welcoming sign on the Statue of Liberty that greets fresh arrivals coming to the country by sea, some of the recent American administrations have tried hard to keep the destitute from Central America from entering their country. The most determined attempt was made by former President Donald Trump who promised to build an unscalable wall all along his country’s border with Mexico. He first promised that Mexico would pay for the wall but when that turned out to be an impractical solution, he appealed to the US citizens to donate generously for the construction of the wall. Many people did and some of the money collected for building the wall was misappropriated by Steve Bannon, who briefly served as a senior adviser in the Trump White House. At the time of this writing, he is being tried for embezzlement by a court in New York.

President Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, has opted for a lenient approach with the result that according to newspaper reports more than one million have entered the country during Biden’s 18 months in office. Many of those who have been admitted will have to apply for asylum, a process that would take up to seven years to complete. According to Eileen Sullivan writing for The New York Times, the presence of such a large number of undocumented migrants, “is both a humanitarian challenge and a political flash point for a divided country that has failed for decades to agree on both who should be admitted and for what reasons.

It takes a year before the federal government assigns asylum seekers permission to work, and there is no designated funding to help support them in the meantime, as there is for refugees. But as the debate rages with little progress toward new laws, these immigrants are integrating into American communities, big or small, sending their children to public schools and eventually contributing to the economy.” These asylum seekers are mostly from Central America but other countries have also contributed. Immigration officials estimate that some 150 countries have contributed to the flow. Pakistanis have added to the millions crossing America’s southern border and seeking asylum in the United States.

The current political uncertainty in Pakistan, the pressure from the Afghan population who want to leave their country and join their friends and relatives already settle in Pakistan, and the millions of people displaced by the recent floods in the country have provided reasons for tens of thousands of Pakistanis to apply for asylum in the United States and Western Europe.

State governors in the United States from different parties have adopted a variety of approaches to deal with the arrival of asylum seekers. To try to get the Biden administration’s attention, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Dacey of Arizona, both Republicans, have sent thousands of newly arrived migrants on buses to New York city and Washington in recent months. Both cities were not prepared to assist so many people, and officials and volunteers have been scrambling to get them to their desired destinations where they have relatives or acquaintances prepared to receive them. The Governor of Florida has also sent tens of thousands of newly arrived migrants from Haiti and Cuba by plane to Martha’s Vineyard, a holiday spot in the state of Massachusetts. The state of Maine on the other end of the United States adopted an entirely different approach. Southern Maine has welcomed the newcomers in ways that are unmatched anywhere in the country. More than 700 families seeking asylum have come to the state since January 2021, fleeing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola. They have found housing with the help of non-government organisations who pay their rents and also jobs. A little African diaspora has been formed which is now absorbing more refugees from the area.

As Germany discovered when it admitted more than a million refugees from the war-torn Syria in the past one decade, the arrival of a million asylum seekers will contribute positively to the state of the economy. The German GDP is estimated to have increased by 0.3 per cent in the year after the arrival of refugees from troubled Syria. They were prepared to do low-skilled jobs the German workers were shunning. OECD, the Paris-based club of developed and rich nations, has estimated that the absorption in the economy of a million Arabs from Syria is likely to increase the German GDP by 0.5 per cent a year, making it one of the fastest growing economies in Western Europe.

Worker-shortages is one of the problems the American economy currently faces. This can be met by the migrants if the American state both at the federal and state levels adopts a more accommodating approach.

Most of the debate about migration in the United States has not paid sufficient attention to some of the demographic changes that are taking place in the county. Two of these are important. One of these is the significant decline in the birthrate in last decade and a half. This is the consequence of large number of women entering the workforce. Working women are either delaying marriages or even when they do get married they don’t want large families. A low birthrate means an aging population that reduces economic dynamism. The entry of young people into the US population provides demographic balance.

The second reason is the reluctance of those Americans who were in the workforce before the country was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic to go back to work. Newspapers are full of reports about work shortages in a number of professions: truck and bus drivers, taxi drivers, schoolteachers, etc. These shortages have already begun to take a toll on the economy.

One possible solution is to allow a larger number of people to enter the country from the places that have surplus workers. Pakistan is one such place. This country has one of the largest rates of population growth rates in the world. It has also one of the world’s youngest populations. Its large diaspora in the United States would make settling the newcomers an easier task. In view of all this, this may be a good time for the governments of Pakistan and United States to conclude an agreement that would allow the entry of large number of Pakistanis under some kind of a special visa arrangement.


Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2022.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read