Why immigration reform? That’s what people are asking their members of Congress in meetings around the country.
Here are four reasons.
Immigration increases the efficiency of the U.S. economy
Immigration reform enables entrepreneurs to come to America
Start-ups lead to economic growth, and immigrants found new companies in America at greater rates than do the native-born. Alexander Graham Bell, Levi Strauss, Adolph Coors, and Henry Heinz were all immigrants who founded profitable new American businesses. Immigrant-founded companies employ millions of Americans. If entrepreneurs cannot come to America, they go elsewhere.
Immigration reform brings increased national security
Immigration reform can reduce the deficit
America needs immigration reform. In a global economy, we want to make it easy for the best and brightest to come to America, work in America, and stay in America. Congressional legislation can make that possible.
Immigrants make the economy more efficient by reducing bottlenecks caused by labor shortages, both in the high- and low-skill areas. This, in turn, creates more jobs for native-born Americans. Our immigration system is bureaucratic and time consuming, and needs reform.
Skills of native-born American workers are distributed in a bell-shaped curve. Many Americans have high school diplomas and some college education, but relatively few adults lack high school diplomas and even fewer have Ph.D.s in math and science. In contrast, immigrants’ skills are distributed in a U-shaped curve, with disproportionate shares of adults without high school diplomas who seek manual work and others with Ph.D.s in math and science.
Immigrants are about 16% of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet represent 50% of the labor force without a high school diploma. Furthermore, they represent 25% of all doctorates and 35% of doctorates in science, math, computer science and engineering.
However, since they have a smaller share of high school diplomas and B.A.s, which is where native workers tend to be concentrated, they do not compete directly with most native-born workers.
National Science Foundation collects statistics here.
Among native-born Americans, 91% have a high school diploma or higher, whereas only 72% of foreign-born do. Hispanic and Latino immigrants comprise 42% of the American unskilled labor force (defined as those without a high school diploma).
Low-skilled immigrants are disproportionately represented in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors, with occupations such as janitors, landscapers, tailors, plasterers, stucco masons, and farmworkers. Government, education, health, and social services are sectors that employ few immigrants.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data on labor force characteristics of foreign-born workers.
However, the share of immigrant-founded Silicon Valley companies has declined from 52% between 1995 and 2005 to 44% between 2006 and 2012. By making it difficult for high-skill workers to stay in America, Congress is dissipating the value America receives from private and taxpayers’ investments in research.
By offering a path to legal status to the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States, and giving provisional visas to those who pass background checks, America can increase its national security.
Workers will be able to have bank accounts, social security numbers, and work in the legal market rather than the black market. This enables greater tracking by governmental authorities. At a time when Americans are fighting a war on terror, this is of the utmost importance.
The Congressional Budget Office, in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, has estimated that immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $135 billion over the next 10 years.
Arlene Holen of the Technology Policy Institute, using methodology from the Congressional Budget Office, has estimated that in the absence of constraints on green card and H-1B visas over the period 2003–07, an additional 182,000 foreign graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields would have remained in the United States. Their earnings and contribution to GDP would have been $14 billion in 2008, and they would have paid $2.7 billion to $3.6 billion in taxes.
In addition, in the absence of constraints on visas, during that same period, 300,000 H-1B visa holders would have remained in the U.S. labor force rather than returning to their home countries. Holen estimates that they would have earned $23 billion in 2008, and generated $4.5 billion to $6.2 billion in tax revenue during that year.
Her study estimates that proposals to reduce green card and temporary work constraints for high-skill workers considered by Congress five years ago would have reduced the deficit on the order of $100 billion over ten years.
Despite these four benefits, opposition to immigrants is as old as immigration itself. There were concerns about assimilation with all groups, including Jews, Italians, Irish, Germans, Poles, and even Norwegians, when they first came to America, yet all eventually assimilated.
Yet in a 2013 study on measuring immigrant assimilation, Duke University professor Jacob Vigdor found that assimilation is steadily increasing among immigrants. In 2011, the latest data available, he found the greatest amount of assimilation since the mid-1980s, a full generation, in cultural, economic, and civic areas. Composite, cultural, and civic indices are all on clear upward trends. According to Vigdor, the increased extent of economic assimilation likely shows a combination of improving economy and migration trends: unsuccessful migrants leaving, foreigners with weak prospects electing not to migrate.
The immigration bill that passed the Senate is not perfect. Not only does it spend an excessive $46 billion on border security, but it puts in place a system of wages, set by the Labor Department, that employers are required to pay foreign workers. These are called “prevailing wages.”
Not only does the Labor Department have no reliable way of determining prevailing wages, but the wage requirements produced under the new bill are inflated for entry-level workers, excluding them from being hired legally under the bill.
A cursory analysis of the Occupational Employment Statistics survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that it is incapable of generating meaningful, timely prevailing wage data for employers.
Employers classify their workers into 12 wage categories, but they do not report the skills that go into each category. Wages do not include bonuses, overtime, or benefits. That makes it difficult to match up a particular individual such as a recent college graduate with a computer science degree with a prevailing wage.
One of the main House immigration bills contains the same prevailing wage language. The SKILLS Visa Act, H.R. 2131, sponsored by House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and co-sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on June 27.
In any 1,198-page bill, the length of the Senate immigration bill, a few ill-advised words are bound to appear. But there is an opportunity to resolve problems when House bills are passed and they go to conference with the Senate bill.
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