Several studies indicate that increased labor mobility could bring about large economic benefits worldwide, and fully open borders could bring gains of between 67% and 122% of world GDP[1] and dramatically reduce global poverty.[2] Much of this increase would come via substantially increasing the wages of migrants from poorer countries, allowing them to earn more, and possibly sending remittances that will help their families or communities out of poverty.

However, there are some negative effects. There may be a “brain drain” from low income countries, that harms their economies in the long run. Additionally, domestic workers in high-income countries may face more competition which could lower their wages or increase unemployment rates for domestic workers. However, it is extremely unclear whether this effect is significant. Third, high levels of immigration may destabilize culture in damaging ways. Finally, political “backlash” against high levels of immigration may fuel the rise of anti-immigration political movements, who may revert policies, resulting in lower levels of immigration than before. They may also introduce other damaging policies.

Regardless of the merit of the arguments, increasing labour mobility has proven politically difficult, since citizens from high income countries generally strongly oppose this type of reform.

Further reading

Caplan, Bryan & Vipul Naik (2015) A radical case for open borders, in Benjamin Powell (ed.) The Economics of Immigration, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 180–209.

Caplan, Bryan (2022) Open borders as ultra-effective altruism, Bet On It, March 24.

Open Philanthropy (2013) Labor mobility, Open Philanthropy, May.
OpenPhil's shallow investigation about labor mobility.

Pritchett, Lant (2006) Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on International Labor Mobility, Washington: Center for Global Development.
A book-length examination of the economic effects of increased labor mobility.

Roodman, David (2014) The domestic economic impacts of immigration, David Roodman’s Blog, September 3.
A thorough overview of the evidence on the potential side effects of immigration.

Open Borders. A comprehensive repository of information about open borders.

economic growth | global poverty

  1. ^

    Clemens, Michael A. (2011) Economics and emigration: Trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk?, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 25, pp. 83–106.

  2. ^

    Shulman, Carl (2014) How migration liberalization might eliminate most absolute poverty, Reflective Disequilibrium, May 27.