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The draft immigration legislation developed by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” Sentors calls for an increase in the number of so-called “high-skill” H-1B visas. But to achieve stronger growth, it needs to go a whole lot further.
That’s the message from the Bush Institute’s James K. Glassman in a recent column for Forbes.com. Glassman writes that increasing the number of immigrants in the country, and particularly the number of high-skill immigrants, is crucial to achieving faster economic growth. This is a point that the Bush Institute has highlighted repeatedly through various conferences and publications. In fact, the economist Richard Vedder estimates in a recent Bush Institute manuscript that if the U.S. had adopted a pro-growth immigration policy framework in the 1960s, real GDP growth would have averaged approximately 3.1% in the years 1970 to 2011, a rate substantially higher than the actual average growth rate of 2.8% during those years.
Considering that immigrants are so good for growth, one would expect the Gang of Eight bill to encourage more immigrants to come and work in America, especially high-skill immigrants. And to a certain extent it does. The current bill calls for a near doubling of the number of H-1B visas available in any given year. But this is a doubling from a very low base, and the bill caps of the number of H-1B visas that can be distributed in any given year at 180,000. Furthermore, the bill bars companies that are already highly dependent on H-1B workers from using the visa program, and makes it more onerous for other employers to access the program.
Given the growth potential that high-skill immigrants represent, Glassman rightly wonders why on earth we would ever want to place any cap on H-1B visas. The argument from those supporting visa caps states that limits are necessary in order to protect American workers from being displaced by newly-arriving immigrants. Glassman counters, writing, “Fear of displacing native workers is a canard, an absurdity really.” And he’s right, virtually all of the academic evidence suggests that high-skill immigrants complement — rather than compete with — native-born workers.
The stakes are high. In today’s global economy, the U.S. faces strong international competition in the battle to attract the world’s top talent. More than ever, we need public policies that embrace immigrants, not ones that impose limits and turn them away. The time for reform is now, and as Glassman concludes, “Let’s not squander the opportunity.”
Matthew Denhart is an expert on immigration policy and is the author of the Bush Institute’s America's Advantage: A Handbook of Vital Immigration and Economic Growth Statistics, now in its third edition. He currently serves as executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation and is a founder of the Coolidge Scholars Program which provides full-ride merit scholarships to America's most promising college students. A summa cum laude graduate of Ohio University, Denhart has written and spoken widely on a variety of policy topics including the economics of higher education, labor, and taxes. He has contributed articles to numerous national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, CNN Opinion, and Bloomberg View.Full Bio
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