Nations of Immigrants

Nations of Immigrants

Australia and the USA Compared

Monash Studies in Global Movements series

Edited by John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup

This timely book examines the immense surges in immigration since the mid-1990s in Australia and the United States, two of the world’s most important settler-receiving countries.

Chapter 3: Trends in US Immigration

Susan K. Brown, James Bachmeier and Frank D. Bean

Subjects: development studies, development studies, migration, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations, migration, public policy, social policy and sociology, migration, urban and regional studies, migration


Susan K. Brown, James Bachmeier and Frank D. Bean Demographic and economic changes in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have made immigrant labour seemingly ever more necessary in more developed, post-industrial economies (Meissner et al. 2006). Demographically fertility declines have diminished the unskilled labour supply. Also the growth of a knowledge-based economy, large gains in longevity among the elderly and greater affluence in the highest reaches of the income distribution have helped to swell demand for service workers. At least in the US remedying such imbalances through immigration has involved policies that implicitly tolerate unauthorized labour and explicitly seek temporary workers. Such policies reflect concessions to harsher, less generous approaches toward newcomers and entail growing tendencies not to see immigrants as potential future citizens but merely as labourers. More broadly, these shifts suggest the emergence of a current immigration dynamic that is more exclusionary than those of earlier eras. To show how this dynamic has emerged and to assess its importance, it is necessary to compare earlier waves of immigration with today’s. The policy rationales and national meaning attached to previous flows help clarify the shift in logic behind contemporary trends. In general, past US immigration has often been summarized in shorthand, even cryptic, terms as exemplified in the description of the US as a ‘nation of immigrants’ (Handlin 1973). Sometimes this usage has simply meant that the US is one of only a handful of countries that historically built their populations through immigration. Indeed, although some nations...

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