America needs more “employment-based” immigrants – immigrants in the category that consists mostly of professionals, skilled workers, and persons with “extraordinary” or “exceptional” ability – to do jobs few Americans can do, to start businesses, and to power faster economic growth that will pull more out of poverty and create greater prosperity.
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, a comprehensive report concerning the impact of immigrants on the U.S. economy. The key findings were that immigrants increase long-term economic growth, help the economy avoid the stagnation plaguing many other countries caused by aging workforces, bolster “innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change,” increase the number of patents not just in total but per capita, and raise productivity.
Research in the 1980s and 1990s by the late economist Julian Simon, presented in his book The Economic Consequences of Immigration, similarly found that immigrants raise the incomes of native-born Americans and work more, save more, and start more businesses than native-born Americans.
2010 Small Business Administration data, for example, showed that immigrants formed businesses at more than double the rate of native-born Americans.
Among immigrants, the professionals, skilled workers, and persons with “extraordinary” or “exceptional” ability who make up most of the employment-based immigration category, of course, make particularly substantial contributions to U.S. economic growth.
Current law, however, only allows 140,000 of these immigrants each year. And this number includes these immigrants’ spouses and children, so the number of these immigrants with relatively rare skills and abilities is substantially less than 140,000.
Current law also makes this category of immigrants a low priority. It instead heavily prioritizes admitting Americans’ parents, children, siblings, and spouses. For example, Department of Homeland Security data show that in fiscal 2019, before immigration was sharply curtailed by the pandemic, 1,031,765 immigrants were awarded green cards to permanently reside in the U.S. Of these immigrants, 69 percent were family members, 8 percent were refugees, 4 percent came through the diversity visa program, and 6 percent were in the “other” category that includes parolees and asylees. Less than 14 percent were employment-based immigrants.
To fuel the faster economic growth needed to lift more out of poverty and increase prosperity, the number of employment-based immigrants admitted each year should be substantially increased (without diminishing the number of immigrants in other categories) to one million each year.
Increasing the number of these valuable immigrants should not present a concern about “taking jobs from Americans.” The U.S. economy has over two million more jobs than Americans in the workforce. As recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, data released by the Labor Department on September 8, 2021, showed that as of the end of July, there were about 10.9 million unfilled jobs and about 8.7 million unemployed Americans.
Instead of increasing the number of employment-based immigrants who fuel economic growth with their relatively rare skills and abilities, President Biden has chosen to vastly increase the number of immigrants in a very different category: those who can travel to and then illegally cross the Mexican border.
As a candidate, Biden encouraged migrants to surge to the border. Since taking office, he has eliminated impediments to illegal border crossing and then, as hundreds of thousands or millions have crossed, has failed to take significant steps to substantially prevent more from illegally crossing and allowed most of the hundreds of thousands or millions who have illegally crossed to remain here.
Under his policy, the usual requirements for admission – having an American family member, qualifying as an employment-based immigrant, and even facing persecution in one’s home country – do not matter. All that matters is getting to and illegally crossing the border.
While some of these hundreds of thousands or millions may have valid claims for admission based on persecution in their home countries or for other reasons, there is no reasonable basis for the Biden policy of dispensing with vetting for history of criminality and the legal requirement that immigrants be vaccinated against mumps, measles, rubella, policy, and about ten other diseases.
For those who seek to legally migrate to the U.S., moreover, the Biden policy undermines incentives to follow the law and patiently wait in their home countries while pursuing lawful admission.
The nation needs to find a solution to deal with the vast numbers illegally crossing the border. But resolving the problem at the border should not be a reason to defer substantially increasing employment-based immigration.
Now more than ever, America needs to substantially increase the number of these valuable immigrants to fuel the economic growth that will pull more out of poverty and create greater prosperity. The U.S. should expand the number of the employment-based immigrants admitted each year from 140,000 to a million.