Report: On global basis, greater desire for less immigration, not more

In an article at the Washington Post, Janell Ross tackles the question of global attitudes toward immigration using data from Gallup polling and a report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Unfortunately, there are some problems with Ross' conclusions, starting with the following claim:

Adults with a college degree are more likely than those with lower levels of education to want to see immigration kept at its present level or increased.

The devil is in the details on this generalization.  According to data from the IOM report itself, at a global level, those with a college degree (defined as "High education" by the report) are more likely to favor a decrease (36 percent) in immigration than those with "Low education" (31 percent), and there is no clear statistical difference (i.e., within the likely sampling error) between immigration views for those with "Medium" and those with "High" levels of education.  There is also no difference in the proportion saying they want immigration levels increased (down at only 20 to 23 percent across all categories) with education.

In each of the regions sampled (Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean – sample numbers in North America were too low to report for the low education bracket) – including in the G20 group, a greater or approximately equal proportion of the highly educated group indicated they wanted immigration decreased compared to those in the low education cohort.  For Africa, 50 percent of the high education group wants immigration reduced, compared to 37 and 44 percent in the low and medium education groups, respectively.  Overall, the most educated individuals are more likely to favor a decline in immigration among the three options available (decline/increase/maintain immigration levels).

Apparently, "[t]hose younger than age 44 are likely to have an opinion about immigration, and they are more likely to favor increasing immigration levels."  While potentially true according to the IOM data, it is important to note that the percentages favoring increased immigration by age group sampled (15-29 years, 23 percent; 30-54 years, 22 percent; and 55+ years, 17 percent) are all very small, and the differences could be barely – if at all – statistically significant.  Even more important, all three age groups, including among youths, have far more respondents saying they want immigration decreased (34 percent for the 30-54 and 55+ age groups, and 35 percent for the 15-29 years cohort).

Europe's current public opinion posture against immigration gets a particularly bad rap in the Post's article:

A new Gallup survey and expansive report finds that worldwide, people are generally more likely to want immigration levels in their countries to either stay the same or increase. That is, in every region except Europe. Yes, we know comprehensive immigration reform appears unlikely in the United States thanks to resistance on the political right. But here's the thing: Europeans – particularly Southern Europeans and those who live in Britain – were more likely than people in any other region of the world to say that immigration to their countries should be decreased.

Not quite.

According to the survey, 52 percent of Europeans want immigration decreased.  By comparison, in Central America, the percentage is at 53 percent calling for lower immigration, while in Northern and Southern Africa, the values are at 54 and 56 percent, respectively.  Thus, Europe is far from the isolated region wanting reduced immigration that the Post's piece makes it out to be.  In fact, two of the major sources of illegal immigrants into the West (i.e., Central America and Northern Africa) ironically have higher percentages of their publics calling for lower immigration than do the places (i.e., the United States and Europe) into which these regions are sending their own illegal emigrants.

One notes that Mexico – the source of the largest single illegal migrant flux worldwide – has 54 percent of its domestic population calling for decreased immigration (and only 19 percent desiring higher immigration levels), all the while sending upwards of one quarter of its entire population across the border to live illegally in the United States.

A last point made by Ross requires some analysis:

In richer nations, people are just less likely to feel economically threatened by immigrants. They have more options. The economy creates more jobs. To drive home that last point, just look at Northern Europe, where economies are stronger and unemployment lower than Southern Europe. It's much more welcoming to immigrants.

Ross then shows the following figure to back up her claims:

Northern Europe is "much more welcoming to immigrants" than Southern Europe?  Not likely.  The percentages of those seeking lower immigration levels is effectively equal (within sampling error) and clearly dominant for Northern (56 percent) and Southern (58 percent) Europe.  Negligible proportions of the population (8 and 6 percent, respectively – again, equal when sampling error is included) in both regions desire increased immigration, and the percentage who want to keep present levels is also essentially equivalent in both areas.  Rather than being very different, the two regions are mirror images of each other in terms of their views on immigration levels.

Overall, problems abound in the Washington Post's article.  Europe isn't some globally anomalous hotbed of anti-immigration sentiment – especially given the pressure this region is currently under, education and age aren't easy predictors for pro/anti-immigration sentiment, and the northern and southern regions of Europe have essentially equal views toward immigration.

As for the Post's provocative title ("Think the United States is anti-immigration? It has nothing on Europe"), a list of non-European countries and regions with higher proportions of their populations desiring lower immigration rates than in the United States (40 percent) includes Argentina (42 percent), Indonesia (45 percent), the Caribbean (46 percent), Western Asia (46 percent), Bahrain (50 percent), Turkey (53 percent), Central America (53 percent), Northern Africa (54 percent), Mexico (54 percent), South Africa (56 percent), Southern Africa (56 percent), Costa Rica (59 percent), El Salvador (59 percent), Ecuador (62 percent), Lebanon (67 percent), Russia (70 percent), and Jordan (72 percent).  When compared to these nations, the U.S. is far from being "anti-immigration."

On a global basis, far more respondents indicated they wanted to see lower immigration (34 percent) versus those that seek higher immigration rates (21 percent).  Perhaps the entire world is anti-immigration?

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