Immigration and State Institutions: Does Region of Origin Matter?

Publication Date



Some immigration opponents claim that immigrants import bad institutions and policies from their country of origin into their new home country. We argue just the opposite—namely, that immigrants are more likely to self-select into countries with better institutions than those in their home countries. Researchers have examined this issue in both a cross-country and within-country context. Their findings have been mixed. Although others have found small or nonexistent impacts of immigrants on state institutions, those papers assume that all immigrants are the same. Our approach is unique in that it divides immigrant populations in a variety of ways. We build on the previous literature that examines the relationship between immigration and institutions at the state level, where there are smaller inherent differences in economic institutions (compared to differences across countries). We do so by incorporating the regional diversity of immigrant populations, examining whether immigrants’ countries of origin matter for economic outcomes in their new home country. Controlling for the diversity of immigrant populations in a way that previous researchers have not done improves our ability to assess immigration opponents’ claims that immigrants from economically worse-off countries hurt U.S. economic institutions. We find virtually no evidence of an economically and statistically significant relationship between the levels of immigration we have experienced in recent decades and a decline in economic institutions in the United States, regardless of the region or economic conditions of recent immigrants’ home countries. The limited statistically significant evidence we do find is mixed and small in magnitude. Thus, one of the key rationales used to call for immigration restrictions is not supported by our findings.

Document Type



immigration, institutions, states, economic freedom


Other Business


SMU Cox: Other (Topic)