Stephen Moore / July 3, 2018

Give Us Your Young, Energetic, Talented Masses

Republicans are right to call for tough measures to deter illegal immigration — which means building the wall, ending the “catch and release” policy and challenging the harboring strategies of sanctuary cities.

Republicans are right to call for tough measures to deter illegal immigration — which means building the wall, ending the “catch and release” policy and challenging the harboring strategies of sanctuary cities.

But where Republicans are wrong is in calling for strict caps and even reductions in legal immigration visas. Rather than be restricted, the so-called H-1B program, which brings skilled workers to our country, should be expanded.

Almost every economic analysis finds that legal immigrants, on balance, are net contributors to the American economy.

Not all immigrants are beneficial, and, sure, there are bad apples in the bunch — just as is true of the population of American citizens as a whole. But the benefits of immigration are surprisingly large, mostly because most immigrants are risk-takers who come to the United States between the ages of 16 and 40 — so they tend to be at the start of their working years or at the peak of their earning years.

We also know that the more skilled the immigrants, the larger their contribution to overall productivity and the bigger their lifetime net tax payments — i.e., the more they reduce budget deficits.

The prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that there is a positive economic effect of immigration. Its 2016 study explained that immigrant workers may be “complementary with natives, especially high-skilled natives … with high-skilled immigrants innovating sufficiently to raise the productivity of all workers.”

Because most immigrants arrive when they are young, and because Americans are getting older (Baby Boomers are at retirement age), immigration could help fill our labor force needs. This is especially important now, because U.S. birth rates just hit a 30-year low. Without immigration, we would have negative population growth, and we’d soon look like aging Japan. Immigration is America’s fountain of youth.

So if the GOP wants to be a growth party, it must be a pro-immigration party. Period.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to increase the visas for skilled immigrants. First, to forestall the “graying of America,” we should increase the overall number of legal immigrants from about one million per year to about 1.5 million per year.

Second, we should shift the composition of immigrants by using a merit-based policy, along the lines of what Trump has endorsed and what has been adopted in Canada, Australia and Germany. Immediate family members, children and spouses would still go to the front of the line.

Others should be selected on the basis of their skills, talents and brains. Some worry that programs such as the H-1B visa program, which allows employers to sponsor and hire immigrants with specific needed skills, cost Americans jobs. But a 2014 study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that these skilled immigrants have raised wages for American works and increased job growth in science, engineering, and technology fields. “High-skilled immigrants don’t displace U.S.-born workers in computer fields,” the study found.

These positive effects are more pronounced when the labor market is tight — as it is now. The unemployment rate of those with at least a bachelor’s degree in a computer, math or science field is only 2% today. For those who have a degree in architecture or engineering, the jobless rate was a microscopic 1.5% in the first quarter of 2018.

Donald Trump rightly aims to achieve a sustained 3% to 4% annual growth rate for America. This faster growth will require more immigrants, and no nation has a better opportunity than America to import the brains and talents and risk-takers from the rest of the world. What are we waiting for?


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