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Immigration Facts

April 25, 2013

On April 16th, the members of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” introduced their long-awaited legislation on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, S.744. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee which has already held a series of hearings on the bill.

Witnesses testifying before the committee differed on the issue of whether high skill immigration is necessary for American business or helpful to American workers. H-1B visas were a particular focus during testimony from the second panel of witnesses on April 22nd.

Discussions about immigration reform can become, as Chairman Patrick Leahy noted in his introductory remarks, emotionally-charged, which is why it is particularly important to focus on the facts surrounding immigration. James Surowiecki has written an excellent summary in the New Yorker regarding the research which supports economic benefits of CIR to the American worker.

If anything is going to wreck the current bipartisan push for comprehensive immigration reform, it’s the fact that many Americans are convinced that more immigration will be bad for American workers and for the U.S. economy. The spectre of masses of immigrants taking American jobs and driving down wages is a powerful one, especially at a time of stagnant incomes and still-high unemployment. That’s why, in a new work-trends survey released earlier this month, by the John Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, four in ten of those surveyed said that high unemployment is caused by “illegal immigrants taking jobs away from Americans.” Intuitive as this may seem (more workers means fewer job opportunities and lower wages), actual evidence that immigration drives down wages is hard to find. On the contrary, a host of studies have found that immigration has actually boosted wages for native-born American workers as a whole, and that while immigration has had a negative impact on the wages of one group—men without a high-school education—that impact has been surprisingly small. Taken as a whole, in fact, the numbers clearly suggest that immigration reform would be a genuine boon to the U.S. economy.

This is most obviously true when it comes to high-skilled workers, particularly so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers. As I wrote last summer, in the U.S. there has historically been a direct connection between immigration and entrepreneurship, and between immigration and innovation. Immigrants, particularly but not solely in the technology industry, have started companies at a disproportionate rate. And they have played a major role in fuelling innovation—in 2011, for instance, three-quarters of the patents from the country’s ten most prolific research universities had immigrants among their contributors. Skilled immigrants aren’t, as a group, taking jobs away from native-born workers. They’re creating them.



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