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Skilled immigration is just what we need to recover our economy

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With the U.S. in the grip of a global pandemic, its economy battered and facing a daunting road to recovery, the Trump administration is desperate to revive the U.S. economy. And yet, Trump officials have spent the last few months continuing to attack a key pillar of the U.S. economy: immigration.

In April, President Trump curtailed the entry of new permanent foreign workers to the U.S. In June he barred many temporary foreign workers. He justified these restrictions as necessary to protect U.S. workers. Recently, however, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo, President Trump signaled his intent to focus on “merit-based” reforms aimed at boosting high-skilled immigration.

While the details of this plan and how he intends to implement it remain unclear, this policy stance is promising. Increasing the number of highly skilled foreign workers will help the U.S. recover from our current economic crisis. Numerous studies show that skilled immigration boosts innovation, investment, and economic growth.

To reap these rewards, though, these reforms must be done right.

“Merit-based” immigration means different things to different people. In many countries “merit-based” means using points to select some immigrants. Over a dozen countries use immigration points programs, including Canada and Australia. Each country’s system varies, but they typically include such factors as education level, prior connections with the country, language fluency, and job experience. Done correctly, points-based immigration selection systems help economies grow.

Even without a points system, immigrants already help the U.S. economy in a variety of ways. They generate a sizable portion of the economic activity in the U.S., adding over $2 trillion to our GDP each year. They also disproportionately contribute to our economic growth. Although immigrants make up less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account over 25 percent of U.S. venture capitalists, over 30 percent of the founders of U.S. startup companies, over 33 percent of U.S. scientists and engineers, over 50 percent of U.S. patent holders, and over 65 percent of U.S. Nobel laureates. They also contribute to our social safety net. The average immigrant — by our calculation — pays over $300,000 dollars more in taxes in their lifetime than they receive in public benefits.

The economic and fiscal benefits of skilled immigration are even more striking. One study found that for every one additional skilled foreign worker hired by a U.S. firm, 5 to 7.5 new domestic jobs were created in that firm’s industry. Another study found that for every 1 percent increase in the number of foreign workers in a given field involving science, technology, engineering or math, the wages of U.S. workers in that field rose by 7-8 percent.

Increasing skilled immigration can help our economy recover. We released a report this week that proposes how Congress could do just that. Our proposal, Recruiting for the Future: A Realistic Road to a Points-Tested Visa Program in the United States, calls for a new pilot program that would admit 50,000 additional skilled immigrants each year through a points system similar to the ones used in Canada and Australia.

The U.S. differs from Canada and Australia in important ways, so our proposal includes ways to make this program effective, flexible, and transparent, including guidelines for obtaining long-term longitudinal data on admission outcomes to make sure new immigrants contribute to our economy, a regular policy review process, and a standing advisory board made up of experts and immigration policy stakeholders.

We believe our proposal would be legislatively achievable, programmatically successful, and broadly popular. In recent public opinion polls, as well as polls conducted over the last decade, a majority of Americans have consistently expressed support for skilled immigration.

Our proposal is designed as a stand-alone bill. It presents the proposed visa program as a time-limited pilot. And our proposal would not reduce any existing immigration categories. These elements make this a low-cost, low-risk way forward that lowers the barriers to enactment.

Skilled immigration is a source of economic growth, not strain. The ongoing federal effort to help the U.S. economy recover should therefore include points proposals like ours that foster more, not less, immigration.

The Charles Koch Foundation provided funding for the study mentioned above.

Stephen Yale-Loehr is Professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School. Follow him on Twitter @syaleloehr

Mackenzie Eason is a post-doctoral fellow at Cornell University and doctoral candidate in Political Science at UCLA.

Tags coronavirus economy coronavirus recovery COVID-19 Donald Trump high-skilled immigration Immigration merit-based immigration work visas

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