Jul 7th 2005
Do immigrants take our jobs? Only if we try too hard to preserve them
ON APRIL 20th 1980, Fidel Castro, Cuba's president, declared Mariel harbour an “open port”,
inviting those Cubans who wished to leave his country to do so. Many accepted eagerly. Between
May and September, about 125,000 of them were ferried to America by a flotilla of fishing vessels,
yachts and shrimp boats, often chartered by Cuban exiles in Florida.
In 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. A month later, the
Bosnian Serbs laid siege to Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital. That year, almost 234,000 Yugoslavs applied
for asylum in safer European countries.The Mariel boatlift, as it was called, and the Balkan wars
have provided two of the more interesting “natural experiments” in the economics of immigration.
Both have allowed economists to cut the Gordian knot entangling immigration's impact on the
economy and the economy's impact on immigration. Often, cities and countries that host the most
immigrants also boast the best economic performance. That might be because immigrants bring
prosperity; but it might be that they are attracted by it. Awkwardly, to the commonest question—do
immigrants take our jobs?—the two experiments offer different answers.
The Marielitos who settled in Miami added about 45,000 workers to the city's labour force, an
increase of 7%. In a seminal study published in 1990, David Card, now of the University of
California, Berkeley, concluded that the city's economy took the new arrivals in its stride. The