Populism: Magnet or Deterrent?


Firms in the U.S. rely on highly skilled immigrants, particularly in the science and engineering sectors. Yet the recent politics of immigration marks a substantial change to U.S. immigration policy. We implement a conjoint experiment that isolates the causal effect of nativist, anti-immigrant, pronouncements on where skilled immigrants choose to emigrate. While these policies have a significantly negative effect on the emigration destination choices of Chilean and U.K. subjects, they have little effect on the choices of Indian and Chinese subjects. Similar results are observed when we replace these policies with a description of the destination as the ‘U.S.’ As a robustness check, we include an incentivized real effort task experiment to recover, unobtrusively, the subject’s immigration destination preferences. Consistent with our conjoint findings, Chinese and Indian subjects exhibit a significantly stronger preference for the U.S. than is the case for the Chilean and British student subjects. There is some evidence that the negative effect of these nativist policies are particularly salient for skilled immigrants who self-identify with the Left.