The United States possesses a number of competitive assets in the global war for talent: most notably, its huge and flexible labor market and an abundance of leading-edge multinational corporations and world-class universities. However, the United States also faces growing competition in the global labor market from other countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as from the expanding economic opportunities available in the home countries of Indian and Chinese professionals who constitute a vital talent pool for U.S. high-tech companies. These trends underscore the need to revamp U.S. immigration policies to make them more responsive to the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy.
Yet the quota-based immigration system of the United States diminishes the country’s ability to sustain, let alone expand, inflows of high-skilled immigrants. The optimal remedy for this defect in U.S. immigration policy is to replace the H1-B visa program for highly skilled foreign professionals with a quality-selective regime along the lines of the point-based systems introduced in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The United Kingdom is moving in this direction, away from a work-permit regime to a multi-tiered system that would entitle high-skilled immigrants to work for any British employer or to set up their own businesses in the country. However, the political environment in the United States—where homeland security concerns remain acute five years after September 11th and the furor over undocumented immigration clouds the separate issue of skilled immigration—provides little cause for optimism that such a policy reform will soon materialize.
One question that recently received heightened attention from lawmakers is whether or not immigrants should be admitted to the United States less on the basis of family ties and more on the basis of the skills they can contribute to the U.S. economy. Although some of the practices associated with a point-based immigration system might benefit the U.S. economy, policymakers should be careful not to assume that such a system would be a panacea for the widespread dysfunction of U.S. immigration policies.
A crucial question in the current debate over immigration is what impact immigrants have on the wages of native-born workers. At first glance, it might seem that the simple economics of supply and demand provides the answer: immigrants increase the supply of labor; hence they should decrease the wages of native workers. However, the issue is more complicated than this for two reasons that have been largely overlooked. First, immigrants and natives tend to differ in their educational attainment, skill sets, and occupations, and they perform jobs that often are interdependent. As a result, immigrants do not compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs. Rather, they “complement” the native-born workforce—which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of natives. Second, the addition of new workers to the labor force stimulates investment as entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to organize these new workers in productive ways that generate profits. When these two factors are included in the analysis of immigration and wages, it becomes clear that immigration has a positive effect on the wages of most native-born workers. Read more...
Despite the important role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy, they disproportionately lack health insurance and receive fewer health services than native-born Americans. Some policymakers have called for limits on immigrants’ access to health insurance, particularly Medicaid, which are even more stringent than those already in place. However, policies that restrict immigrants’ access to some health care services lead to the inefficient and costly use of other services (such as emergency room care) and negatively impact public health. The future economic success of the United States depends on a healthy workforce. Therefore, policies must be devised that improve, rather than restrict, immigrants’ access to quality health care. Read more...
IPC Research Fellow Dan Siciliano told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that immigration is directly responsible for billions of dollars annually in U.S. economic growth. Siciliano, who also is Executive Director of the Program in Law, Economics and Business at Stanford Law School, explained to the Committee that "if the United States were to reform the immigration system to better address the demand for foreign-born labor, the economic benefits of immigration could be even greater than what we have already experienced."
Foreign-born workers do not substitute perfectly for, and therefore do not compete with, most native-born workers. Rather, the complementary nature of the skills, occupations, and abilities of foreign-born workers increases the productivity of natives, stimulates investment, and enhances the choices available to consumers.
Most of the border-enforcement and immigration-reform proposals currently being considered in Washington, DC, are not comprehensive or adequate solutions to the issue of undocumented immigration. The process of North American economic integration, and development within Mexico itself, create structural conditions that encourage Mexican migration to the United States. Read more...
The immigration debate once again is dominated by narrow thinking and the search for simplistic solutions to complex problems. Most lawmakers and the press have come to equate “immigration reform” with the question of whether or not enhanced immigration enforcement should be coupled with a new guest worker program that is more responsive than current immigration policies to the labor needs of the U.S. economy. All but lost in this debate have been the calls by prominent immigration reform advocates to improve and expand pathways for permanent immigration as well.
This report examines the relationship between immigration and sustained U.S. economic growth. As the U.S. labor force ages and becomes better educated, the economy is continuing to create a substantial number of jobs for individuals with low levels of formal education and that favor younger workers. These trends are creating a critical demographic gap between U.S. labor supply and demand that immigration can help fill.
Current immigration policies are completely out of sync with the U.S. economy’s demand for workers who fill less-skilled jobs, especially in the case of Mexican workers. While U.S. immigration policies present a wide array of avenues for immigrants to enter the United States, very few of these avenues are tailored to workers in less-skilled occupations. It should come as no surprise, then, that immigrants come to or remain in the United States without proper documentation in response to the strong economic demand for less-skilled labor.