There are many factors which affect an individual’s decision to immigrate to another country. Two groups that categorize such factors depends on whether immigrants are “pushed” out of their homeland or “pulled” into a new country. Common “pull” factors include better job and educational opportunities, and family reunifications. A less common factor for immigrating is for the chance to compete in the Olympics.
“Seven Olympic medals since 2000 have been won by five new citizens who had been elite performers for their home countries” (National Journal). Ice dancer Tanith Belbin is one example. Born in Canada, she came to the US after partnering with US citizen, Ben Agosto, in 1998. However, Belbin was not yet naturalized and could not compete in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Instead, she had to petition and ask Congress to allow her to attain citizenship in time for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
This brings up the question: have Olympians become a US import?
“We call them migrant laborers,” said Kevin B. Wamsley, a co-director of the Canada-based International Center for Olympic Studies. “Certainly, there’s a value for nations on medals” (New York Times).
However, it is important to point out that not all individuals come to the US for the sole purpose of competing in the Olympics. Lopez Lomong, for example, ran in the Beijing and London Summer Olympics. He gained his citizenship in 2007 after fleeing civil war in Sudan. He explains: “This is my gift, to give back to this country that has given me a second chance. I love the United States” (Moffett).
In short, countries attract immigrants for many varying reasons. We must take into account the disparity between immigrants with lower or high human capital, and how that affects policy decisions.
Photograph: Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin