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The cure for US job woes: More immigrants

New pro-business report begs: 'Let 'em in!'

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Radically increasing the number of immigrants – from the highly skilled professional to the seasonal agricultural field hand – is the solution to the US economy's dismal inability to create jobs.

That's the conclusion of a new study released not by what one rabid right-wing fulminator dubs "red diaper doper babies", but by the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the pro-business Partnership for a New American Economy.

"Specific, incremental changes to immigration, such as more permanent and temporary visas for highly educated immigrants, especially those in [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and expanded programs for both skilled and less-skilled temporary foreign workers, can lead to job growth even in the short run," concluded the study (PDF), which analyzed data from a variety of sources, including employment data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2000 to 2007.

"Temporary foreign workers – both skilled and less skilled – boost US employment," the study states. The addition of each 100 H-1B visa for well-educated immigrants in "specialty occupations", for example, results in an additional 183 jobs for US natives, the study claims.

The addition of 100 immigrants in the H-2B class, designed for less-skilled, seasonal, temporary nonagricultural workers, the study asserts, results in an additional 464 jobs for US natives.

The study also found "positive" contributions to US employment for temporary agricultural workers in the H-2A visa program, but said that their findings were not statistically significant due to limited data.

However, "The results give clear evidence that both the H-1B and H-2B programs for temporary workers correspond to greater job opportunities for US-born workers. Overall, when looking at the effect of all immigrants on employment among US natives, there is no evidence that immigrants take jobs from US-born workers."

The data sets used in the study did not provide information on the legal status of the immigrants involved, but the study does note that "Unauthorized foreign born (roughly 30 percent of all foreign born) are disproportionately less skilled." That said, the study concluded that "including all foreign-born workers – regardless of legal status or education level – the data show no evidence that immigration hurts US employment."

The study estimates that about one-half of undocumented immigrants haven't completed high school, and that they add up to about 22 per cent of all US adults without a high school diploma. Authorized immigrants, however, who comprise roughly 70 per cent of all foreign born workers, "are actually more likely than the US-born to have a bachelor's degree or higher."

Immigrants give more than they get

The study also analyzed the impact of foreign-born workers on the US tax rolls, and found that, overall, immigrants contribute more than they receive in benefits – and, as might be guessed, that ratio increases as education increases: the average foreign-born adult pays $7,826 in taxes and receives $4,422 in cash and in-kind benefits from "major government programs", while those immigrants with an advanced degree pay $22,554 in taxes, and receive less than $2,300 in benefits.

But even at the lower-skilled H-2B and H-2A levels, increased immigration would help the US job market, the report's authors contend. "The study also shows that a modest increase in H-2B workers can deliver a generous boost to the US-born employment rate," and "The same holds true for the H-2A program, which offers temporary visas to agricultural workers, whose effect on US workers was found to be positive but, because of limited data, not statistically significant."

The study also tackles one commonly voiced objection to increased immigration, saying: "US employers use guest workers not to replace American workers but to fill critical needs, allowing operations to continue or expand, which in turn creates additional jobs for Americans."

At the higher H-1B level, a "brain drain" has begun, the study says, with foreign-born talent leaving the US after their educations are complete. "Graduates of top US universities look elsewhere when they have no easy way to stay and work in the United States," the study asserts.

In addition, "Entrepreneurial immigrants from China and India, many with years of work experience at American companies, are returning home because of outdated, inflexible US immigration policies coupled with improving economic prospects at home."

From the point of view of members of the American corporate class, a nativist anti-immigrant stance that makes it difficult – as it now does – for US-educated immigrants to stay in the States after their education is harmful to their international competitiveness. "Immigrants who entered the United States on a student visa for college or graduate study are more likely than natives to hold a patent, to have a publication, and, for those who came for graduate study, to start a company with ten or more employees," the study reports.

"From the perspective of US employment, it makes little sense to force those graduates to leave the United States for home or for other countries eager to capitalize on their first-rate US education." ®

Bootnote

How conservative is the AEI, and how pro-business is the Partnership for a New American Economy? The former has George W. Bush's vice president Dick Cheney on its board of trustees, and the latter counts Rupert Murdoch and Steve Ballmer among its co-chairs – nary a bleeding-heart, Occupy Wall Street, red diaper doper baby among them.

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