Immigration is key to U.S. competitiveness
July 1st, 2011
06:19 AM ET

Immigration is key to U.S. competitiveness

Editor’s Note: Demetrios G. Papademetriou is President and Co-Founder of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank dedicated exclusively to the study of international migration. He also serves as Chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Migration.

By Demetrios G. Papademetriou – Special to CNN

Substantive immigration reform continues to elude America. Politicians are mired in disagreement over the future of the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population.

This is not surprising. The United States has the largest unauthorized immigrant population of any industrialized economy – by far.

But while the reform debate remains stalled, the competitive forces shaping global economies continue to operate. In recent years, the United States has watched other countries fashion more nimble immigration policies allowing them to fill gaps in their workforces.

In many ways, the policy questions regarding future immigrant flows will prove more crucial – and harder to resolve – than the illegal immigration conundrum.

How much immigration do we need? Which of the would-be immigrants should get priority? How can employment-based immigration be more responsive to changing economic realities?

These questions are important and they do not have simple answers.

If the United States is to retain its competitive advantage, its universities, firms and industries will continue to need a healthy flow of talent from abroad – especially at a time when other countries are rapidly expanding their capacity to attract and retain qualified immigrants.

A definitive “solution” to the question of future flows of immigrants cannot spring out of one piece of legislation, however wide-ranging. But steps can be undertaken to improve the nation’s posture on immigration.

First, policymakers must devote sustained attention to immigration. We need to collect rigorous evidence and data about how the nation’s immigration system is currently working in order to improve it in the future.

Second, the system needs flexibility to respond to a changing economic and global environment.

Currently, we have an immigration apparatus that is neither flexible nor evidence-based. It has been essentially unchanged for decades.

To help collect rigorous evidence about immigration and provide flexibility, we propose the creation of a Standing Commission on Labor Markets, Economic Competitiveness and Immigration.

This permanent, independent, non-partisan expert body would gather information and provide timely, evidence-based advice to Congress and the President on the employment-based immigration levels that would be optimal for the U.S. economy.

Staffed with career professional economists, demographers and other social scientists, the Standing Commission would inject realism into a conversation all too often fraught with opinion disguised as facts.

The Commission would be on hand to answer specific questions about the impact of proposed policies.

For example, the Commission could address how increased enforcement directed at employers affect the economy. Georgia is currently grappling with this question having enacted a tough new immigration law that has raised sharp concerns for the state’s agribusiness interests.

Another question might be: What would happen if we changed the terms and conditions of the H-1B visa?

The Standing Commission would facilitate regular reviews of immigration policy by bringing new information and analysis to the debate.

Of course, immigration is not just about economics. The core decisions remain political, and Congress is the right place to hash them out. But legislating on immigration is particularly difficult because decision-makers often cannot agree on the facts. This is why they need an objective and non-partisan, expert body to answer questions.

Elsewhere in the policy world, expert bodies of this kind are considered a no-brainer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides in-depth analysis of employment data. The International Trade Commission examines the impact of changes in trade regulations. The U.S. Sentencing Commission assists Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective crime policy.

Meanwhile, governments around the world now look to expert bodies for answers on the tricky economic questions in immigration policy. For example, the United Kingdom has the Migration Advisory Committee.

In the unforgiving global economy of the 21st century, employment-based immigration represents a strategic resource. If managed well, immigration can actively support economic growth and competitiveness while protecting U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions.

But this is hard to do without reliable, ongoing and detailed analysis of how the system is working, how our immigrants fare and what role they are playing in the labor market.

A Standing Commission would help lawmakers to meet this challenge. More crucially, it would allow the United States greater nimbleness as a player in a global marketplace. This is a marketplace that is becoming evermore competitive as countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and others routinely adjust their immigration policies to attract the human capital they need to compete in this dynamic world.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Demetrios G. Papademetriou.


soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Debug

    HELP UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS CANCEL ALL TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKNG VISAS LIKE H1-B AND L1.

    All I have to say is: the politicians that dreamed up NAFTA, CAFTA, and the like including outsourcing must have had rocks for brains to have ever thought those things would be good for our country. How in the world (no pun intended) could fair trade (what a joke) with all those other countries be good for us!!! It was the beginning of unemployment when those things were voted in. Our companies took off for the cheap labor, and our people lost their jobs. Personally, I would rather pay more for things and have Americans employed than to have cheap products from China that don't hold up for long anyway!!!!

    July 2, 2011 at 11:32 am | Reply
  2. I Write Code

    This is just not the case – there is a surplus of "talent" around the world, unemployment of college grads from Italy to China to the US, this is simply about finding the cheapest available labor and forcing down US salaries. Guess what happens when you do that – the real talent leaves the field, and progress grinds to a halt.

    July 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  3. twins.fan

    Few people argue against ALL immigration. There are some who apparently want unlimited immigration. Today, the US has legal immigration and illegal immigration.

    There are laws that limit immigration, but not by much, because today, of all the countries that have a net positive immigration, the United States has more immigration than the rest of the world combined, and there are people who want even more immigration. And those who do not want even more immigration are incorrectly described as opposing immigration.

    I don't oppose immigration, but I oppose unlimited immigration. In fact, I support the reduction of immigration to levels similar to the other countries on the planet.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  4. Dr. Rizzel

    We have allowed so many foreign-nationals to flood the country, that now, they can dictate the terms of our surrender.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  5. Frank

    America is finished and dying. The Chinese will put a bullet through its head and put it out of its misery. The Land of the Free? What a joke! You are free to do just what your evil master in Washington tell you to do..... Personal Liberties are just as dead as America.

    July 3, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • Dr. Rizzel

      It does appear that we are on the way down – but it is yet too soon, to be absolutely certain... we could, yet again, turn our faces towards GOD, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the Lord might tarry a bit... and those that would wish our nation harm, would be rebuked, as they most certainly will be, when (not if) they attempt to hurt Israel.

      I presume, from the context of your message, that you are not an American, (What country are you from?) and that your words are not borne of sadness over the relentless assault of our county's foundation, but rather, joyousness, over same?!

      We have done great deeds throughout history, at the cost of great amounts of blood and gold, and when you look around the world, you are witnessing the vacuum created by our descent into Orwellian lunacy.

      Don't you think that you, will remain unscathed, should we fall.

      July 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  6. h1bloselosesituation

    How H1B immigrants contributes towards US economy ?

    1) H1B employees need a place to live, so they rent apartments. Average Rent paid per year – $12,000.

    2) H1B employees need food, water, electricity and other utilities to sustain their families. Money spent on such services per year – $6000.

    3) Many H1B employees typically go to school in US for MS. Average tuition fee paid + living expenses – $40,000.

    4) H1B employees typically travel back to their home country once every year on vacation – $2000.

    5) Average taxes paid to US government – $20,000.

    Total Contribution in 6 years = $12,000X6 + $6,000X6 + $40,000 + $2,000X6 + $20,000X6 = $280,000

    How Red Tape is hampering H1B program ?

    Stringent rules and regulations coupled with increasing costs are preventing more and more companies from hiring H1B employees. Here are some examples –

    1) For H1B employees in consulting, Visa is being tied to a project.

    2) If an employee moves to a different location an amendment needs to be filed.

    3) Increased H1B filing fees.

    Due to all these added complexities companies are avoiding hiring H1B employees. This is evident from the fact that for fiscal year 2012 only 18,400/65,000 (general quota) and 11,900/20,000 (Masters quota) have been consumed as of 07/01/2011.

    How poorly managed H1B program is adding to US unemployment woes?

    1) H1B employees after being denied Visa or due to increased red tape are choosing to go back home.

    2) Positions that H1B employees used to occupy are being outsourced or are being left vacant.

    3) H1B employees who used to contribute $280,000 to US economy are not there to sustain it.

    How is this creating a lose lose situation for H1B employees and US ?

    1) H1B employees who have spent several years in US, have to return back to their home countries.(Loss to H1B employee)

    2) Corruption is rampant in their home countries so they will have to learn to deal with it. (Loss to H1B employee)

    3) The money that H1B employees used to generate towards the US economy is gone and gone with it are any jobs related to services that H1B employees used to consume. (Loss to US)

    4) Many of these H1B employees if given permanent residency in US would have started their own companies and created so many more jobs. That will not happen. (Loss to US)

    How much more ironic can anything get ? Sad but True

    July 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  7. h1bloselosesituation

    What is causing unemployment in US ? Here is detailed analysis http://goo.gl/MgEcJ

    July 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
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