Orlando, Florida: epicenter of chain migration?

During a recent visit to Orlando, except for one former Moroccan, all of our Uber drivers were former Venezuelans aged 50+. Via communication in a pidgin of English and Spanish, I learned that all of the former Venezuelans were chain migrants. Each had 4-5 children, at least one of whom lived in the U.S. and was therefore entitled to bring in both mom and dad. The guy who spoke the best English was a retired military officer. His pension was $2 per month.

It does not seem as though these folks are going to be net taxpayers, since all whom I met had earnings that would entitle them to subsidies for housing, health care, food, etc. American taxpayers will fund all of their medical expenses (about $11,000 per Medicare beneficiary per year plus these folks should be on Medicaid or subsidized Obamacare prior to age 65, so figure $500,000 total for health care?).

From “Immigration Multipliers, Trends in Chain Migration” (Jessica Vaughan, September 2017):

Over the last 35 years, chain migration has greatly exceeded new immigration. Out of 33 million immigrants admitted to the United States from 1981 to 2016, about 20 million were chain migration immigrants (61 percent).

According to the most complete contemporary academic studies on chain migration, in recent years each new immigrant sponsored an average of 3.45 additional immigrants. In the early 1980s, the chain migration multiplier was 2.59, or more than 30 percent lower.

I wonder if U.S. chain migration policy means that we can estimate the cost to U.S. taxpayers of a country experiencing an economic downturn. Let’s suppose that the meltdown in Venezuela has added 2 million chain migrant parents to the U.S. welfare state at roughly $1 million each (housing subsidies plus the $500,000 in medical expenses described above). Thus, it would be fair to say that Venezuela’s ongoing woes (can’t say “crisis” if it lasts for years, right?) will cost Americans at least $2 trillion?

(This does not account for the costs of congestion due to the fact that U.S. infrastructure is more or less fixed while the population grows. We experienced a traffic jam on a Saturday in Orlando and our driver said that was typical.)

Could we go around the world, figure out how many migrants from each country are already U.S. citizens, figure out how many parents, spouses, children, cousins, etc. have been left behind in the old country, and then estimate the cost to Americans if the economy in that country fails? We could then use these data to inform our foreign policy (usually starts from an isolationist premise, but due to our chain migration policy, it seems that our welfare is intimately intertwined with the welfare of any country that has previously sent us immigrants).

KMCO (thanks, Signature!), SeaWorld and Magic Kingdom from 2,000′ (thanks, Orlando Approach, for the 270 heading):


27 thoughts on “Orlando, Florida: epicenter of chain migration?

  1. I don’t know whether it’s fair to call Orlando the epicenter of chain migration, since it seems like more of a regional hub. In any case, it would be a useful metric for someone who does AI-enhanced political risk assessment to inform investment decisions, like Geoquant, for instance.


    >it seems that our welfare is intimately intertwined with the welfare of any country that has previously sent us immigrants

    It most definitely is. And you don’t need a total economic meltdown, you just need a place like Mexico, which is teetering on the brink of becoming a failed state and getting so bad that villages are arming their children to defend themselves. The country is descending into a collection of turf battles waged by various cartels. More than 35k homicides in 2019 and trending up.


    “Alex had seen the pictures of himself, rifle in hand, published in newspapers across Mexico. It was a strange kind of fame. He had never left the state of Guerrero, and now his face was on newsstands in the capital. His commander insisted it was part of the strategy.”

    The Mexican government is apparently powerless to stop the violence, but Obrador wants them to quit arming themselves. Great! What a guy!

    “Giving children weapons and taking videos is an act of cruelty,” he said last week.”:

    Academics don’t have any good answers:

    “I don’t know how they can get the government’s attention aside by doing these sorts of things – or by dying, and even that will only get the authorities’ attention for a few days,” said Chris Kyle, an anthropologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who focuses on Guerrero.”

    So Mexico will continue to fail, people will continue to become refugees, and the United States is going to be absorbing the migrants indefinitely. Maybe we should refine your model and factor in a significant (say, 30-50%) proportion of the population of Mexico (which is ~123 million and booming, way, way above the replacement rate, 1.9% per year growth rate, 18.3 births/1000 people and 5.8 deaths/1000 people.) over the next decade. We may have to resign ourselves to accepting several times the growth rate of their population every year until there’s nobody left to fight over in Mexico.


    Take your 2 million number and multiply by 20 or 30 and I’d say you’re closer.

  2. > It does not seem as though these folks are going to be net taxpayers

    Fun fact: a family of 2 parents + 2 children requires an income of at least $92k/yr before they are net contributors to our society.

    • Milton: baz raises a good point. From a market perspective, if we are willing to pay $1 million for each elderly chain migrant who comes to the U.S. then each must be worth more than $1 million, if not in obvious economic terms then in some kind of sentimental way.

    • Two things I’d say:

      1) Is the only way to contribute to society a financial one?

      2) If you make money for yourself, that’s a net good, even if you’re taking money from people without producing value ( see companies charging prisoners ridiculous rates for phone calls )?

      If you make money for someone else ( low paid strawberry pickers, dishwashers etc ) then you’re a drain on society?

  3. An yet you support Trump, even though he took advantage of chain migration personally.

    I wonder what the difference is between these Venezuelans you despise and Trump? hmmmm

    • I’m not sure why you believe that I support Donald Trump. Certainly I have not moved to a state in which my vote might be of practical use for any candidate.

      I’m also not sure why you believe that I “despise” anyone who uses the U.S. welfare system as designed. As an Econ 101 graduate, it wouldn’t make sense to me to see someone paying for his or her parents’ health care when the U.S. taxpayer is happy to pay. That said, I don’t think Melania is comparable from a fiscal point of view to an elderly immigrant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melania_Trump says that she came to the U.S. at age 25 or 26 and, as far as I know, she has not obtained anything from the U.S. welfare system (but maybe once President Sanders turns Trump Tower into public housing, she will get an allocation of an apartment from the housing ministry?).

      Even Milton Friedman, who said “It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state”, never had any unkind words, as far as I know, for someone who would take Americans up on their offer to fund all lifestyle expenses. (see


      for that quote and also “There is a rough one-to-one fiscal balance between low-skill immigrant families and upper-middle-class families. It takes the entire net tax payments (taxes paid minus benefits received) of one college-educated family to pay for the net benefits received by one low-skill immigrant family.” That was in 2007. Now that housing is so much more expensive, I wonder if it is actually two college-educated families that would be necessary to fund one immigrant family. A lot of college-educated families aren’t able to fund decent housing for themselves circa 2020.)

      Friedman said that low-skill migrants would make existing citizens of a welfare state individually poorer. He did not say that low-skill migrants into welfare states were bad or irrational people. (Friedman was sort of wrong at least as far as data from 10ish years ago is concerned. Up to that point, low-skill migration in the U.S. had mostly shifted about $500 billion per year from working class Americans to rich Americans. See https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-clinton-immigration-economy-unemployment-jobs-214216 )

    • The chain part of the migration is Melania’s parents, Viktor and Amalija.

      Her expenses as first lady all come form the public coffers, eg “Government spending data show at least six separate Toronto hotel charges ranging from just under $12,000 to nearly $49,000 for a total of roughly $174,000. She did not spend the night.”

      Sounds like a welfare queen!

    • baz: I didn’t realize that Melania’s parents were among us!


      talks about this. It says that the dad is in his 70s and belonged to the Communist Party. He is qualified to take Bernie Sanders’s place in the Senate after Bernie is elevated to the White House!

      Mostly, though, Melania’s parents are a good example of how existing Americans could be a lot better off under an Econ 101 system in which employers and others who want immigrants pay the Treasury for them. If Facebook wants to import someone with unusual skills, it can pay the Treasury whatever the going rate is for expanding the U.S. population (in https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2017/04/12/how-much-would-an-immigrant-have-to-earn-to-defray-the-cost-of-added-infrastructure/ I figured it would be a minimum of at least $1 million per new American to provide for infrastructure). To bring in her parents, Melania and her husband would have had to pay the Treasury, thus lowering the debt burden for the native-born.

  4. Phil, I thought your position was that migration adds to the economy. Didn’t you suggest governments should charter a380s and send them to poor countries to pick up immigrants? Seems like your position is changing and now you feel that migrants might actually hurt the economy. Which is it? Toucan is very confused. One thing Toucan knows is if you are against immigration you are a default racist!

    • Toucan Sam: You raise some great points. Certainly I would not doubt the NYT or our most righteous politicians regarding the positive correlation between more low-skill immigration and greater per capita wealth. However, the U.S. is already very wealthy and I am committed to reducing global inequality. Thus, logic compels me to conclude that the world would be a better place if we let the Airbus A380s refuel here and continue onward to the countries with a lower rank in https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/211rank.html

      Canada is a great example of a country where considerations of justice lead inescapably to the conclusion that it should be supplied with all of our low-skill migrants. Canada (a) is less wealthy per capita than the U.S. and therefore needs the low-skill migrant economic boost more, (b) has universal health care so migrants will experience greater social justice once they arrive there, and (c) has lower levels of crime and therefore migrants will feel more secure there.

      Another way to look at this is that the best way to make Venezuela economically successful is to send lots of low-skill migrants to Venezuela. Imagine if Venezuela were richly supplied with folks from yet-much-poorer countries. They would then easily be able to afford the worthy programs launched by Mr. Chavez and continued by Mr. Maduro.

    • Thanks for clarifying Phil! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daOH-pTd_nk It seems like Trump might be right. You seem sick of winning! I would be fine if American gets richer. And there is nothing better than inequality! It is wonderful to go to a shithole/shithouse country and see how mighty the US dollar actually is.

    • Toucan Sam: As with Elizabeth Warren stepping out of a Lear 45 to rail against those who travel in Gulfstream G650s, I am not sick of winning myself. I am sick of others who have won more than I have!

  5. > It does not seem as though these folks are going to be net taxpayers,

    And yet you seem happy to avail yourself of the services they rendered.

    And I have not seen a serious discussion about kicking those states out of the union that get more money from the federal government than they pay into it.

    • Wally: “And yet you seem happy to avail yourself of the services they rendered.”

      This is as predicted by the Harvard eggheads in https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-clinton-immigration-economy-unemployment-jobs-214216

      The flood of low-skill immigration into the U.S. is transferring $500 billion each year from renters with blue collar jobs to people like me (job that requires a PhD, property owner). So of course I am happy! As a child if you’d said “One day, Philip, you will be able to afford to ride with a personal on-call chauffeur” I would have replied that this was inconceivable. And yet, thanks to a surfeit of low-skill labor, all-Uber-all-the-time is affordable for anyone with an upper-middle-class job.

      (Separately, most of the accounting of what states get from the federal government is fraudulent. When Federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars are spent in Louisiana, for example, a huge chunk of that comes right back to the rich states where pharma and medical device companies are based. It looks like the spending happened in Louisiana, but the wealth ended up in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.)

      So of course I am happy with my share of this $500 billion! But I also understand why someone who is on the paying side of this cash river might want to vote differently than my rich neighbors here in Massachusetts.

  6. I have a modest proposal:

    What say we call for a complete freeze on chain migration and any attendant government layouts associated free housing, food, etc., etc., until we can guarantee that no American has to go to jail because their 5 year old son is diagnosed with leukemia and their daughter contracts Lyme disease:


    “Tres and Heather Biggs’ son Lane was diagnosed with leukemia when he was five years old. At the same time, Heather suffered seizures from Lyme disease.

    “We had so many — multiple health issues in our family at the same time, it put us in a bracket that made insurance unattainable,” Heather Biggs said. “It would have made no sense. We would have had to have not eaten, not had a home.”

    Americans support immigration reform and lower health care costs by wide margins. What kind of insane world are we living in where we allow chain migration and all the money associated with it to continue to grow but we throw people like Tres Biggs in jail for $500, or cannot pay their medical bills without becoming homeless and/or starving to death?

  7. But..but… this makes no sense to me.
    The Biggs family may not vote Democrat while undocumented immigrants surely will.
    Also, the Biggs family will likely refuse to mow your lawn for $8/hr cash while some undocumented immigrants may accept that–and they will also do research in quantum gravity after work.

    • @M: Obviously it makes no sense to me either! And it looks from the video clip like the Deplorable Mr. Biggs works in one of those filthy, polluting industries that isn’t carbon-neutral (grinding, welding, metal fabrication) out there in Kansas. I wonder if Greta Thunberg will feature him on her new BBC television show as one of the people destroying the world and robbing her of her childhood? Then we can have Mike Bloomberg take his guns away if he owns any, so he can’t blow his brains out, and Bernie can put him to work building free housing for America’s seventeen million new citizens. It’s a bright future.


      “…As she travels Greta meets not only leading scientists but political leaders and business heavyweights, exploring the scientific evidence with them and challenging them to change.”

  8. A discussion of chain migration and not one mention of the Massachusetts branch of the Obama clan? Obama’s Aunt came to this country decades ago, and has been successful in sopping up every taxpayer-paid benefit available, from housing to healthcare to food to a monthly disability check. All this she continues to receive despite having a spotty history of being here legally.

    • Renaissance SeaWorld. It is huge, charmless, 1980s decor in the rooms, updated lobby that is vast beyond explanation. Great array of services, though, including coin-op guest laundry that we needed after living out of the four-seat airplane. And the rooms are quiet, clean, and comfortable. Friendly workers. Discounted tickets to SeaWorld. Walk from the room to SeaWorld is about the same as if you’d scored a moderately bad parking space in the main SeaWorld lot (i.e., about 5 minutes). If you’re doing Disney, I think the Swan and Dolphin are pretty nice and they’re run by regular hotel companies instead of Disney itself so they are more like what you’d expect a hotel to be.

    • Well, it is less outdated than our house! https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mcosr-renaissance-orlando-at-seaworld/ gives a pretty fair impression. As I said, the public areas are redesigned. But it is a strange monster rectangle with a huge amount of wasted interior space (monster atrium that is at least 10 stories high). I don’t think anyone would design a building like this today. It is kind of Soviet (maybe the same Russians who are determining our elections are also designing our hotels?).

      And there is not much within walking distance other than SeaWorld. https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/florida/hyatt-regency-grand-cypress/vista has an attached tennis center, for example, which this hotel doesn’t have.

      It truly seems set up for only two purposes: (a) SeaWorld visits, and (b) conventions (a lot of meeting space tacked on at the back because… all of that lobby space is wasted with the huge atrium!).

  9. Forgot, I really enjoyed your review of Jacksonville, so thanks for that too.

    I am going to check out the Hyatt Grand Cypress.

    Thanks again.

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