While it isn’t exactly clear whether President Trump considers certain countries to be “holes” or “houses” consisting of, well, you know what, it does seem safe to assume that our President doesn’t look kindly upon prospective immigrants from much of Africa, or from countries whose people were transplanted from Africa. And, we assume, he doesn’t look kindly upon would-be immigrants from other countries which are identified with extreme poverty such as, perhaps, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.
For our purposes, today, we will not relitigate his desired ban on immigrants from those Muslim countries that our State Department has identified with terrorism. Instead, we’ve endeavored to understand just who typically applies to legally immigrate to the United States from most of the places that are, in President Trump’s view, “holes” of dubious desirability.
Let’s begin with Bangladesh. Like so many immigrant groups, the Bangladeshis who arrive in the United States may have little money, but a wealth of determination to succeed, and to contribute to, and benefit from, the American experience. Putting aside our well-honed, pre-conceived notions, Bangladeshi immigrants are actually better educated than the general US population, both at undergraduate and graduate levels. Actually, the median household income for Bangladeshi Americans is around $54,000, or 8 percent higher than the US average of $50,000. Our Bangladeshi emigres hold more bachelor’s degrees than the U.S. population overall, and they are more than twice as likely to hold advanced degrees. Bangladeshi-Americans actually rank in the top 10 percent of U.S. household income distribution. In general, employment among the Bangladeshi closely resembles employment of the general U.S. population, with both groups having similar rates of labor force participation, employment, and share of managerial or professional occupations.
Now, most Americans, we would guess, think of Sri Lanka as a very poor country and therefore assume that Sri Lankan Americans are probably a drag on our economy. But that’s not the case either. Sri Lankans who come to America are generally quite well educated. With a median income of $74,000, Sri Lankan Americans are the third most successful Asian American group (tied with Japanese Americans with respect to income). Additionally, 57% of Sri Lankan Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among holders of graduate degrees Sri Lankans (54%) along with Indians and Taiwanese (56%) and Israelis (51%), rank higher than graduate degree holders of all other foreign-born Americans.
Much has already been written about how President Trump laments that America is not taking in enough immigrants from Norway, and, perhaps, too many from Africa. Well, we have news for President Trump. Africans who apply to immigrate to the United States are well educated and pretty industrious. Four out of ten come to America with a bachelor’s degree or higher. That compares to less than 30% of native-born Americans who hold bachelors degrees, and, incidentally, African emigres hold higher degrees in greater numbers than all other foreign-born adults. This isn’t really surprising when one thinks about it. Our immigration policy, like that of most countries, places a high premium on ambitious and resourceful immigrants, so the more accomplished the applicant the greater the likelihood he or she will get a green light to enter the United States.
How about high school diplomas? About one-third of immigrants overall lack a high school education, but less than 12% of African-born migrants come without a high-school diploma. Interestingly, that’s just about the same as native-born Americans who don’t finish high school.
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. And, we would guess, most Americans probably assume that Nigerian immigrants would be among the least educated coming to the United States. Not so.
The education level of Nigerian applicants is among the very highest in the U.S., even higher than those of Asians. Seventeen percent of Nigerians come to the United States with master’s degrees. Language? By and large not a problem with African emigres. About three-quarters of African immigrants speak English. And, for the record, they commit violent crimes at a significantly lower rate than individuals born in the United States. President Trump may really believe that Africa “is not sending us their best people,” but, actually, Africa is.
Economist Edward Lazear recently made an interesting observation. He speculated that if one were to guess about the education levels of immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel, and Japan, most people would assume that Algeria would rank third. But they would be wrong. Algeria ranks first, Israel second and then Japan. And that’s entirely logical. Algerians who are well educated have relatively few opportunities to succeed and get ahead in Algeria. In other words, their future prospects are poor and certainly not consistent with their educational achievements. But a well-educated citizen of Japan or Israel can, in all likelihood, do just fine by staying home.
Now, we certainly believe that applicants who desire to immigrate to America must also embrace democracy, and really believe in freedom and justice for all. We believe immigrants to America should jettison their native prejudices, whatever they are. But we also believe that it is fundamentally wrong to attribute to those individuals who want to leave impoverished, corrupt and oppressive nations the very attributes they are fleeing.
So, just as one can’t judge a book by its cover, it is just as wrong to judge an aspiring immigrant by his or her country of origin.