Immigration creates jobs for native-born Americans. That is the fundamental finding of a new study from the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership For A New American Economy, entitled Immigration and American Jobs. The study—authored by Madeline Zavodny, a professor of economics at Agnes Scott College—reinforces the findings of numerous other studies which have demonstrated that there is no correlation between immigration and unemployment. Specifically, Zavodny analyzes Census data with the aim of answering one pivotal question: “In states with more immigrants, are US natives more or less likely to have a job?” Zavodny focuses on two groups in particular: immigrants with advanced degrees, and immigrants of any skill level who are in the country on temporary visas.

The four principal conclusions of Zavodny’s study are unequivocal:

  1. Immigrants who hold advanced degrees create jobs for native-born workers. The biggest job boost comes from those immigrants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities who work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. According to Zavodny, “data comparing employment among the fifty states and the District of Columbia show that from 2000 to 2007, an additional 100 foreign-born workers in STEM fields with advanced degrees from US universities is associated with an additional 262 jobs among US natives.”
  1. Both highly skilled and less-skilled temporary workers create U.S. jobs. Zavodny finds “that states with greater numbers of temporary workers in the H-1B program for skilled workers and H-2B program for less-skilled nonagricultural workers had higher employment among US natives.” Specifically, the addition of 100 H-1B workers was associated with an additional 183 jobs for native-born workers, while the addition of 100 H-2B workers was associated with an additional 464 jobs for native-born workers.
  1. Immigrants don’t take jobs away from native-born workers. According to Zavodny, there is “no evidence that foreign-born workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt US employment. Even under the current immigration pattern—which is not designed to maximize job creation, has at least eight million unauthorized workers, and prioritizes family reunification—there is no statistically significant effect, either positive or negative, on the employment rate among US natives.”
  1. The taxes paid by highly educated immigrants more than cover the cost of the benefits they receive. Zavodny finds that “in 2009, the average foreign-born adult with an advanced degree paid over $22,500 in federal, state, and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA, or Social Security and Medicare) taxes, while their families received benefits one-tenth that size through government transfer programs like cash welfare, unemployment benefits, and Medicaid.”

According to Zavodny, the findings of her study suggest three reforms to the U.S. immigration system which would benefit the U.S. economy and native-born workers. First, she calls for a reorientation of permanent and temporary immigration policies to favor immigrants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in STEM fields. Second, she advocates an increase in the number of “green cards” (permanent visas) available to highly educated immigrant workers. And third, she recommends an increase in the number of temporary visas for both highly skilled and less-skilled immigrant workers. Zavodny notes that these reforms would create new jobs while requiring “neither new taxes nor new spending cuts.”

Zavodny concludes that “immigration policy can, and should, be a significant component of America’s economic recovery.” Yet the reality is that even the most basic of immigration reforms are deadlocked in the U.S. Congress. And, while the United States dawdles, “the rest of the world competes for talent.” According to Zavodny, “every major developed country is more focused than the United States on admitting immigrants to meet economic needs.” In other words, whether they realize it or not, opponents of immigration reform are needlessly undermining the U.S. economy.

Photo by thekevinchang.

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