Terrorism Study Questions Immigration Policies
Prof's Work Finds Minimal Benefit to Blocking Influx of Skilled Workers

A study of immigration trends and terrorism threats finds that nations could benefit from taking a proactive approach to controlling immigration of non-skilled workers from countries that harbor terrorists.

Dr. Todd Sandler, Vibhooti Shukla professor of economics and political economy in UT Dallas’ School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, said many nations clamped down on the influx of highly trained workers following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Several of the hijackers involved in that event were college-educated, seemingly successful professionals.

 But Sandler called terrorism “unskilled intensive,” in its source country. He said national security plans don’t benefit as much from limiting skilled immigration as from carefully monitoring the number of unskilled laborers entering a country from nations perceived as breeding grounds for terrorists.

“If you leave large numbers of unskilled laborers in countries that tend to have a lot of homegrown terrorists, then the terrorist acts will increase there,” he said. “But if they move to Western, developed nations, they bring with them resentments that may lead to terrorist activities in those new home countries.”

Sandler wrote about the research with Subhayu Bandyopadhyay of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and IZA, Bonn. 

Immigration and counterterrorism policies are top issues for officials in the United States and many other targeted developed countries. Since Sept. 11, transnational terrorist groups have taken up residency in a variety of developing and developed countries. While Western nations have increased their intelligence capabilities with the goal of rooting out terrorist cells, many potential offenders go unnoticed in their host countries.

Sandler said his study may be the first to investigate the interrelationship between immigration quotas and the choice between defensive countermeasures in the developed country and proactive measures in the (source) developing country. 

The researchers found that developed countries gain from deflecting attacks back to the source country, though those proactive measures against a resident terrorist group may not result in reduced terrorism in the source nation.

“This is a novel result,” Sandler said. “The literature views such proactive measures as necessarily reducing terrorism everywhere.”

The study identifies the circumstances in which the developed country can gain a strategic advantage through policy leadership. Greater defensive countermeasures combined with reduced unskilled immigration quotas shift the burden of the war on terror to the source country, he said.

Sandler and Bandyopadhyay found that the source country for terrorism also may be better off augmenting proactive measures. Terrorism most frequently increases when residents are threatened with poverty, so increased economic opportunity should decrease terrorism in the long run, he said.

A companion paper, just published in Oxford Economic Papers, adds a fresh perspective to emerging research that views foreign aid as a means of delegating the fight against terrorism to a source nation. The analysis shows how homeland security is integrally related to the composition of the aid package – tied versus general assistance – to the country that hosts the common terrorist threat.

Regime instability in the recipient also adds an important new dimension to the study of aid as a counterterrorism tool. The study demonstrates that terrorists greatly limit the effectiveness of counterterrorism aid by taking refuge in weak states with unstable regimes. In such states, general aid assumes an increased importance in fighting a common terrorist threat.

“The analysis here shows that targeted countries with global interests must bolster proactive measures through tied aid to countries where transnational terrorist groups reside,” Sandler wrote. “A prime-target country, like the United States, may take up the fight and subsidize proactive measures abroad. If, however, the wrong mix of general and tied aid is given, then sufficient regime instability can produce a bad result to all targeted countries as more terrorism results.”

He said the research shows the fight against transnational terrorism must develop a judicious mix of homeland defenses and counterterrorism foreign assistance.

Dr. Todd Sandler said many nations clamped down substantially on the influx of highly trained workers following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: EPPS research