## Niskanen Center — Research on Immigration Policy (2020)

Grant investigator: Alexander Berger

## Rationale for the grant

#### The cause

Immigration policy, particularly allowing more people to be able to move to high-income countries, is a top priority cause for us, and as such we have been looking for grantmaking opportunities. Our perception is that there is significant organized attention devoted to allowing more high-skill immigration, but little for other categories of immigration.1 We see this grant as an unusual opportunity to fund advocates who share our goal of allowing more immigration (of many kinds) for broadly humanitarian reasons, though Niskanen conceptualizes its goal in terms of increasing human liberty while we tend to think in terms of increasing human welfare.

#### The organization

The Niskanen Center is a libertarian think tank founded in 2014 by Jerry Taylor, who had previously worked at the Cato Institute for many years.2 Liberalizing immigration law is one of the Center’s initial focus areas, along with taxing carbon emissions, reducing US military spending, and promoting civil liberties. The Niskanen Center’s interest in immigration arises from its broadly libertarian outlook, while our interest in the area is more based on expected welfare improvements, but the Center shares our long-term goal of allowing substantially more immigration.3

#### Risks and offsetting factors

We think policy advocacy efforts are always risky, and we would not be surprised at all if this grant fails to affect policy.

We can also imagine a few ways this grant could cause harm (although we do not believe that any of them are likely):

• This grant could potentially substitute for general funds, which might be redirected to uses that we did not anticipate and do not support. In particular, while the Niskanen Center’s current policy goals appear to be ones that we could support, we do not share its general libertarian outlook and may regard some of its goals in future priority areas as harmful.
• Funding a libertarian think tank could conceivably compromise our reputation among people and organizations of differing political persuasions.

## Plans for learning and follow-up

#### Goals for this grant

We see this grant as a way to build the capacity of one of the very few groups that shares our policy agenda in this area. We hope that additional capacity leads to two specific outcomes:

• Identifying additional angles on immigration policy on which we might be interested in working. For instance, we had not been considering the Diversity Visa program prior to Niskanen identifying its preservation as a goal.
• Immigration policy experts we spoke with, including Mr. Bier, told us that they expect Congress to consider another comprehensive immigration bill in 2017.12 By that time, we hope that the Niskanen Center has advanced proposals that are under consideration to be included in the comprehensive bill, and that the Center is in a position to weigh in to a smaller extent on other parts of the legislative immigration discussion (e.g. by proposing tweaks that are incorporated into proposed bill language).

#### Key questions for follow-up

• How does Niskanen Center spend the grant funds? How does this compare to its budget and expectations at the beginning of the grant period?
• What work does Niskanen ultimately prioritize during the grant period?
• Is the Niskanen Center able to affect any legislation around immigration? How large is the expected impact of such changes?
• What allies, if any, is the Niskanen Center able to mobilize to support its immigration agenda?
• What other immigration policy issues or proposals does the Niskanen Center identify as potential areas of work?

#### Follow-up expectations

We expect to have a conversation with Niskanen Center staff every 3-6 months for the next two years, with public notes if the conversation warrants it.

We expect to provide an update on this grant after one year either by publishing public notes or by producing a brief writeup. After the grant is spent down, we plan to attempt a more holistic and detailed evaluation of the grant’s performance. However, we may abandon either or both of these follow-up expectations or perform more follow-up than planned if the circumstances call for it.

## Our review process

We approached Niskanen in June 2015 to discuss funding opportunities relating to advocacy for lower-skill immigration, and a series of conversations about its work culminated in a request for funding. We solicited background feedback about the Center from a few other sources prior to making a decision about funding it.

We shared a draft version of this page with Niskanen staff prior to the grant being finalized.

## Sources

DOCUMENT SOURCE
Bier 2015 Source (archive)
GiveWell’s internal notes from a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, April 7, 2014 Unpublished
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with David Bier, June 5, 2015 Source
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Michael Clemens, April 21, 2014 Source
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Neil Ruiz, June 28, 2013 Source
Niskanen Center Conspectus Source (archive)