Study: Recession sparked global immigration crackdown

Liz Goodwin
July 6, 2010

When times get tough, many countries slam the doors on immigrants.

That's what a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (flagged by the Wall Street Journal) finds. As jobs became scarce in 2008, many previously welcoming European countries adopted policies to crack down on both legal and illegal immigration, which had skyrocketed during the boom years between 2000 and 2007.

Several nations tightened limits on the number of immigrants they allowed in, and began issuing fewer work permits for immigrants already in the country when unemployment began to shoot up in 2008. Ireland and Italy both passed laws barring illegal immigrants from using public services. The U.K. raised fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants. Greek police bulldozed a migrant camp near Patras. And the U.S. discouraged banks who received bailout funds from hiring foreign-born workers on temporary skilled-worker visas.

Meanwhile, a host of countries took the novel approach of encouraging immigrants to leave the country entirely. Spain's government offered to pay travel costs for those who agreed to leave and doled out a lump sum of unemployment money to the immigrant once he or she arrived home. The U.K., France, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Denmark also adopted programs that encourage foreigners to return to their home countries.

Ironically, at the same time developed countries were tightening immigration restrictions, fewer immigrants were seeking work abroad, as the dismal job outlook discouraged them from trying. Applications for H-1B visas, which allow highly skilled workers to temporarily work in the United States, fell by 16.1 percent from 2008 to 2009. Illegal immigration also fell dramatically in the U.S. and Europe over the same period.