I study institutional and political determinants of migrants’ immigration strategies using the United States’ immigration system as a case study. Drawing from work that theoretically connects decisions to immigrate legally vs. illegally as well as theoretical insights from literature on the economics of crime, I show how relative probabilities of successful migration using different strategies and relative utility gained using different strategies weigh heavily in immigrants’ calculus. To do so, I use qualitative evidence of migrant strategies in the face of migration policy constraints. These various policy constraints lead to a variety of different tactics revolving around decisions regarding whether to immigrate legally, to commit visa fraud, or to choose one type of visa over another. In the process, I also build on a rich body of Public Choice literature to demonstrate how complicated regulatory systems, in this case regulatory systems that quantitatively restrict migration, encourage rent-seeking by both migrants and nonmigrants.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: 16 March 2023