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More Immigrants, a Better Economy

In case you missed it: Ezra Klein makes a case today for increasing immigration as a way to attract highly skilled workers, lower prices and raise wages. He argues the economic arguments immigration critics point to, such as the need to protect jobs for Americans in bad economic times, have little basis in reality: Growing the labor force also grows the economy and raises wages for the average American.

The whole piece is worth a read, but here are Klein’s main points. First of all, growing the labor force through immigration rather than trying to increase the birth rate has economic benefits:

In fact, there’s a sense in which green cards are superior. Economists separate new workers into two categories: Those who “substitute” for existing labor – we’re both construction workers, and the boss can easily swap you out for me – and those who “complement” existing labor – you’re a construction engineer, and I’m a construction worker. Immigrants, more so than U.S.-born workers, tend to be in the second category, as the jobs you want to give to someone who doesn’t speak English very well and doesn’t have many skills are different from the jobs you give to people who are fluent and have more skills.

Secondly, undocumented immigration hurts some unskilled workers, who are forced to compete with workers who may be willing to accept less-than-legal wages. This means comprehensive immigration reform, in which some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. earn legal status, is necessary to prevent illegal workers from driving down wages in low-skill sectors.

Then there are highly-skilled would-be immigrants, who are often forced to move elsewhere by a visa system that offers only 65,000 high-skilled visas each year. Only 15 percent of visas are set aside for employment purposes — including low-skill jobs, such as agriculture — compared to the large number set aside for family reunification. This hurts growth of small businesses and innovation in the U.S., Klein writes:

It’s never going to be the case that each and every one of the planet’s most talented individuals is born on U.S. soil. But those born elsewhere could be lured here. People like living here. We should be leveraging that advantage, mercilessly roaming the globe to find the most talented people and attract them to our country – like Dog the Bounty Hunter, but for particularly able foreign physicists. Because when we have the best talent, we have the best innovations. That’s how we landed Google, Intel and the Theory of Special Relativity. Immigrants are about twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a small business, and they’re 30 percent more likely to apply for a patent.

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