Reform immigration and stop wasting talent

The California Supreme Court's recent decision regarding Sergio Garcia was yet another reminder of the United States's broken immigration system. Garcia was brought to the United States illegally as a child by his parents and grew up with the dream of practicing law. However, after passing the California bar exam, he had to fight in the courts to be admitted to the state bar and practice law. Ironically, despite his victory, it’s still illegal for any law firm, business, or public agency to hire him.

Garcia’s case is far from isolated.  We have thousands of businesses seeking lawyers or other high-skilled workers who have acquired a college education in the U.S., yet many of these workers cannot be hired because our government doesn't allow them to be.  The vast majority these workers were brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own. 

We could blame parents for putting their children in this situation, but in reality we should blame a broken system that fails to offer many immigrants the chance to come to this country legally.  In fact, our current system encourages illegal immigration. People who come to the U.S. illegally don't do so because they don't want to follow immigration laws, but rather because it’s so difficult to go through the bureaucratic maze that coming to legally work in the United States entails.

These are desperate people who pay thousands of dollars to coyotes and drug cartels to help them cross the borders. For them, not coming to the United States means a life of extreme poverty for them and their children, and sometimes death.  One of the most costly economic consequences of this sad state of affairs is that many immigrants and their children--like Sergio Garcia--who come to this country illegally occupy jobs well below their skill level and potential. 

Not only is the number of working visas capped at 65,000 for 2014, but when it comes to sponsoring workers to obtain a permanent residency card, business owners face the harsh reality that the current system discourages immigration by erecting costly bureaucratic hurdles.

Additionally, the current system prioritizes immigration for family reunification purposes. In 2012, 66 percent of permanent residency cards were family-sponsored while only 14 percent were employment-sponsored.  We want immigrants to come to the United States to work, but the current system doesn't encourage that, leaving fewer options for business owners. They can hire illegal immigrants, outsource their production, or operate below capacity--leaving billions of dollars on the table.

High-skilled immigrants may want to live the America dream, but that doesn’t mean that the U.S. is their only option. With immigration policies much friendlier in other industrialized nations, the U.S. is simply forcing talent elsewhere and letting other countries gain the cultural and economic benefits that we could have had. In fact, Brazilian-born Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship last year due to our harsh tax climate.

Reforming the immigration system doesn't mean that everyone should let be in, but it does mean that our immigration policies shouldn’t guided by political demagoguery, anti-foreign sentiments, and irrational unsubstantiated fears about illegal immigrants.

Ultimately, in the words of Bryan Caplan, we are "sitting on an ocean of talent, most of which tragically goes to waste year after year," when it could translate to higher productivity, innovation, and profits.

Padilla is an associate professor of Economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver and the director of the Exploring Economic Freedom Project.

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