The United States is a land of immigrants. The liberal principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have enabled it to make Americans out of people from widely diverse places and cultures.
Yet, from the nation’s founding, immigration has been a contentious issue, particularly when the newcomers were in some way “different” from the dominant group at the time. As the twentieth century approaches its end, anti-immigration sentiment remains strong, despite the fact that the rate of growth of the domestic labor supply has fallen sharply and the nation must look to immigration for people with skills essential to an increasingly technological society.
Because U.S. employers in need of highly skilled staffs are vitally concerned, this issue of IRConcepts begins by examining the status of aliens in the United States today and then goes on to explore the pro- and anti-immigration arguments. We briefly look at the history of U.S. immigration policy, seeing how it switched from being open to closed after World War I, and how it has changed since World War II. Finally, to help our readers reach rational conclusions, we place the immigration issue into the context of today’s globally competitive marketplace.
Current Status of Aliens in the United States
The U.S. immigration process is a complex one today, involving three federal government departments—state, justice, and labor. The Department of State, through its worldwide embassies and consulates, administers immigration law and supplies applications to aliens seeking to immigrate. The Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) administers the law with respect to those arriving or already here. In some employment-related visa categories, the Department of Labor must certify that an alien’s employment will not adversely affect employment, wages, or working conditions in the United States.
An immigrant is defined as a foreign national who legally enters the country with the proper documents and intends to live here. (Foreign nationals here either with expired visas or having entered the country illegally are termed “undocumented aliens,” and are subject to deportation.) Aliens admitted for lawful permanent residence receive an I-551 “green card,” permitting them to work. Most immigrants, after five years of permanent residence, may seek naturalization. The vast majority of immigrants always have intended to become permanent residents and United States citizens.
People here on a temporary basis, either as tourists or for business purposes, are considered “visitors.” Nonimmigrant H-1B visas may be granted to aliens in specialty occupations coming temporarily to work in the United States, but they are issued under stringent documentation requirements, and are valid only for employment with the sponsoring employer; their term is up to three years, but an additional three-year extension may be granted. Students may enter legally for specified periods of time under F-1 student visas, and employers may petition to hire such people.
Employers who wish to sponsor immigrant employees with intent to make them permanent residents may seek one of three types of visas for them. The EB-1 visa is intended for aliens with “extraordinary” ability, such as outstanding scholars or managers. The EB-2 visa is for people with “exceptional” ability. There is also an EB-3 visa for skilled workers and professionals. Employers seeking such visas for prospective immigrant employees must prove that qualified U.S. citizens are not available to fill the open positions.
Arguments for and against Immigration Today
Last year’s brouhaha over issuing additional temporary visas for skilled workers shows that centuries-old controversies concerning immigration to the United States have not ceased, nor changed much in content. Those wanting to keep America’s gates open include representatives of recent-immigrant groups and organizations concerned with labor force needs, such as American Business for Legal Immigration. Other entities—e.g., the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—want to tighten our borders and reduce legal immigration. Both opponents and proponents of open immigration span the political spectrum, and their arguments are of two types, cultural and economic. The immigration controversy boils down to a conflict between two desires—that for stability and that for growth. Let us now examine the arguments on both sides.
The Case against Further Immigration
Renewed agitation against immigration is spurred by the recent dramatic increase in the number of immigrants—and by their origins. Since 1980, the nation has absorbed 18 million newcomers, including undocumented aliens. In 1997, 26 million persons—one out of every ten residents—were foreign born, the highest percentage since 1930. Before 1970, four out of five immigrants came from Europe and Canada; since then, however, four out of five have come from Asia and Latin America. Seven million, more than 25 percent, were born in Mexico; 1.1 million, in the Philippines; 1.1 million, in China and Hong Kong; 913,000, in Cuba; 770,000, in Vietnam; and 748,000, in India. This changing ethnic composition of the population again has fanned nativist fears of “mongrelization.” Alien Nation, a 1996 book by Peter Brimelow, an immigrant from Britain, echoes old themes by warning that the nation’s English-speaking heritage is doomed.
As in the past, the anti-immigration forces include those who see immigration as threatening not only the English language, but American culture. While the descendants of eastern and southern European immigrants eventually assimilated into the American mainstream very well, recent attacks on the concept of the “melting pot” and demands for “multiculturalism” have fed fears of divisiveness.
Religion always has been part of anti-immigration sentiments. The largely Protestant new nation proclaimed religious freedom, but the arrival of many Roman Catholics prompted anti-immigration sentiments early in the nineteenth century and the entrance of still more Catholics, plus Eastern Orthodox and Jewish immigrants later in the century, spurred it anew. Eventually those groups gained acceptance, but the fact that many of today’s immigrants practice non-Western religions—they are Muslims, Buddhists, Bahaists, Shintoists, and Hindus—has revived this sort of prejudice.
Other arguments against immigration focus on its economic impact. FAIR contends that welfare dependency and poverty among immigrants and newly naturalized citizens are higher than for the native-born. Thirty percent of immigrants now lack a high school diploma; with one out of five of them not speaking English, they qualify for only menial jobs and their poverty rate soars. The problem is seen as particularly acute in California, where nearly a third of all immigrants live. (Another 40 percent reside in five other states—New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey.)
As in earlier periods of U.S. history, job fears remain central to anti-immigration positions. Even in this period of record low unemployment, companies, in order to maintain competitiveness, still engage in downsizing and so some Americans are leery of allowing more foreigners to take jobs. In the 1990s, some African-American organizations, convinced that newcomers were taking jobs that their members could have filled or been trained to fill, joined the anti-immigration forces.
Unions traditionally have seen immigration as a force for driving down the wages of native workers. The claim that immigrants depress wages is based on short-run static analysis, as illustrated in Diagram 1. With a given demand for labor D and a supply S1, the wage rate would be at the intersection of the two curves, W1. Immigration increases the supply of labor to S2, which intersects the demand curve at a wage rate of W2 and, thus, although employment has risen from 1 to 2, the wage rate has fallen from B to A. Economic theorems, however, always carry the caveat, other things being equal; in this case, they are not.
Moving from the short run to the long run, we can demonstrate why immigration and higher real wages have been compatible. As Diagram 1 illustrates, the increased supply of labor leads to lower labor costs. These, in turn, trigger an increase in demand for products and labor in the ensuing period. Immigrants, moreover, add to the demand for products, which also helps to increase the demand for labor. As shown in Diagram 2, the fall in the wage rate on the original demand curve D1, long-term, results in an upward shift in the demand curve for labor, from D1 to D2. The quantity of labor increases from 2 to 3, and the wage rate rises to W3—higher than it had been originally. Thus, in a dynamic economy, a growing labor force, to which immigration makes a significant contribution, leads to both increased employment and higher wages.
Despite the fact that both theory and history demonstrate that an increased supply of labor does not adversely affect wages, opponents of immigration have revived the wage argument. Roy Beck (The Case Against Immigration, 1996) charges that immigration, particularly of undocumented aliens, has caused the decline in real wages endured by the bottom half of the labor force. Such critics also blame immigration for poor productivity performance from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, when depressed wages provided little incentive for employers of low-skilled workers to invest in more efficient processes. George Borjas of Harvard, an immigrant from Cuba, attributes one quarter of the increased gap between high- and low-skilled wages to immigration. Vernon Briggs of Cornell advocates not admitting any unskilled immigrants, because they adversely alter the labor market dynamics for citizen job seekers and because using immigrants for doing the “dirty work” just provides a subsidy to employers. We shall address some of these assertions shortly, but let us now examine the case supporting immigration.
The Case Supporting Immigration
The United States needs immigrants, particularly skilled ones to fill technical jobs. The claim that shortages could be remedied by higher pay and more training of natives is an oversimplification.
Despite all efforts and in the face of job opportunities, we have been unable to increase the percentage of American students seeking technical careers; to the contrary, we are turning out fewer people with a B.S. in computer science than a decade ago. Half the doctorates in computer science go to foreign-born students, half of whom remain here. Two out of five engineering graduate students are foreign born and many of them end up enlarging the domestic pool. Current demographics offer a partial explanation: a higher percentage of American youth may be going to college, but the universe from which they are drawn is much smaller. There are only 17 million in today’s college-age generation, and the percentage of college students in the U.S. population has been dropping.
The number of college-age U.S. citizens will begin to grow again in the twenty-first century, and we should plan now to provide motivation and the wherewithal for these young people to pursue technical careers. That demographic switch, however, will have no impact on the labor market for at least another decade, and skilled worker shortages will persist. Faced with a dearth of skilled personnel, some companies will be forced to have technical work done abroad; to put it bluntly, if our policy prevents Indians from coming here for jobs, the jobs will go to them in India. And, in the process, ancillary jobs for other Americans also will be exported.
The case for admitting more highly skilled immigrants, however, goes beyond the fact that they fill necessary jobs, for they also help to create new jobs. A just-released report of the Public Policy Institute of California, written by Professor Anna Lee Saxenian, UC-Berkeley, finds that about a quarter of Silicon Valley’s high-tech companies, such as Yahoo and Sun Microsystems, are headed by Asian immigrants. These entrepreneurial immigrants have helped to create new markets and technologies that benefit the entire nation, and, indeed, the world.
Anti-immigration attitudes stemming from cultural concerns are, however, wide of the mark. The late Julian Simon (The Economic Consequences of Immigration, 1989), a free-market champion, showed that immigration has made the nation richer and that the evolution of American life has not been adversely affected. Of course, the nation’s culture has also changed in the process, absorbing the best that newcomers bring to it, but it remains solidly founded in the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Culturally, ours always has been a civilization in process and that has been its strength, keeping it dynamic and open to new ideas.
The National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group, issued a report this year, “From Newcomers to New Americans: The Successful Integration of Immigrants into American Society,” that offers evidence of continued assimilation. Within the last quarter century, more than 7 million immigrants have become citizens, three quarters of all immigrants spoke English proficiently within ten years of arrival, and three fifths owned their own homes within 20.
The economic arguments against immigration also have shortcomings. The state that has absorbed the most immigrants, California, also has been expanding faster economically than most others, which, of course, explains its attraction to immigrants and in-migrants. Not all immigrants, even those from the Western Hemisphere, are low paid; many immigrants from the Caribbean, for example, open small businesses and build middle-class neighborhoods in New York City, and a Latino immigrant middle class is growing in Los Angeles.
The claim that an influx of immigrants has been the cause of declining job opportunities and falling real wages for American workers at the bottom end of the wage scale has been undercut by the current economic boom. We can understand why immigration and improved job conditions for native workers have gone hand-in-hand by recalling our discussion of the long-term effects of immigration on wages and employment, as illustrated in Diagram 2.
The arguments about low-skilled workers also have their deficiencies. Low-skilled immigrants take the least desirable jobs in terms of both conditions and wages, but do not necessarily compete with native workers, who refuse such jobs. The counterclaim that, absent immigration, the wages of those jobs would have to be raised and then native workers would take them ignores product market competition. Let us focus on the labor-intensive, low-paid garment industry to illustrate this: raising wages would necessitate an increase in the price of the product, but domestic manufacturers would then be unable to compete with imports. Wages might rise, but the jobs would disappear.
All these arguments for and against a liberal immigration policy are not new. They have the deepest roots in what is perhaps the country’s longest-running controversy.
Historical Immigration Patterns
The history of immigration to the United States is founded in the radical ideas of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and has been characterized over the years by a gradual broadening of whom the United States welcomed. It also has been characterized periodically by reverse-pendulum swings of anti-immigration sentiment.
The United States, from its start, rebelled against the European concept of citizenship determined by bloodline, and made citizenship a civic matter. Becoming a citizen simply requires the individual to be able to read and speak English, to swear to support the Constitution, and to be of good moral character. The Fourteenth Amendment states very clearly that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are citizens. In fact, immigrants are encouraged to become citizens and they have the same rights as native-born ones, bar one—they cannot become president.
At the start, as specified by the Naturalization Act of 1790, the granting of citizenship was limited to “free white” immigrants. As the new nation entered the nineteenth century, it comprised 5.3 million people: half were either immigrants from England or the descendants of such immigrants; 20 percent were slaves from Africa; 11 percent were Native Americans; and the remaining 20 percent consisted of small communities of Germans, Scots, Irish, Dutch, French Huguenots, Swedes, and others.
Immigration was modest in the early years, but accelerated after the 1820s, as the nation grew and expanded westward. (Few immigrants settled in the South, where the slave plantation system retarded economic development.) British immigrants were joined by those from Germany and Ireland. At least half the German and most of the Irish immigrants were Roman Catholic, which prompted resentment against them. The Know-Nothing party, based on opposing the foreign-born and Catholics, arose and had a period of political success, electing congressmen and governors.
In the late nineteenth century, the United States underwent a period of rapid industrial development that turned it from a level below that of the leading manufacturing nations—Britain, France, and Germany—into a major industrial power. With fertility rates falling, the United States became ever more dependent upon immigration for its labor supply. Until 1883, northern and western Europe had provided 95 percent of immigrants, but that “old” immigration was insufficient to meet the need for manpower and manufacturers had to look elsewhere for sources of labor. They did not look to Asia; from 1882 onward, laws and agreements adopted in response to pressure from West Coast labor groups specifically excluded Chinese and Japanese people from even entering the country. The “new” immigration came largely from less-developed southern and eastern Europe.
Half the increase in manufacturing in the late nineteenth century has been attributed to a greater supply of labor, most of which was made up of immigrants. By 1900, four out of five industrial workers were immigrants or the children of immigrants. As U.S. industry continued to expand in the early twentieth century, so did the thirst for workers. From 1881 through 1914, 22.3 million immigrants entered the United States, providing one out of three additional workers. These immigrants—largely Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Jews, Poles, Russians, and other Slavs—settled in the industrial centers, along the East Coast and westward to Chicago.
They accepted the unskilled jobs in the mines, mills, and factories, while descendants of members of the previous immigration wave moved up to higher-level positions.
Immigration was temporarily halted by World War I, but resumed after it. With the rate of U.S. industrial growth moderating, immigration began to be viewed less favorably. Many natives saw it as challenging the concept of a homogeneous nation. Actually, the homogeneity had dissipated early in U.S. history—after the 1820s, most immigrants were not British and soon most Americans were not of English descent. Indeed, by 1900, the 77 million residents of the 45 states were a heterogenous lot, and there were more Americans with German and Irish roots than English. Patriotic groups, however, feared that the newest immigrants were bringing with them “un-American” ideologies, a view that widened following the Bolshevik takeover in Russia.
In 1920, the U.S. population stood at 106 million, more than that of any European country except Russia. The nation was twice as large, and more than twice as rich, as it would have been absent immigration. Yet, anti-immigration sentiments exploded, and sociological theories characterizing immigrant groups as more or less unassimilable helped to strengthen a case for ending virtual open immigration and restricting entry along ethnic lines.
Legislation in 1921 severely cut immigration and established a quota system designed to preserve the ethnic composition the nation had had in 1910. Even that was regarded as allowing in too many southern and eastern Europeans, and the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act redesigned the quota system to fit the 1890 U.S. ethnic composition, effectively excluding all Asians. In 1929, the 1924 quota system was modified by the enforcement of the “national origins” provision of the 1924 law. The total annual number of immigrants to be admitted each year was 150,000 and each country’s quota was fixed at .00167 percent of its emigrants resident in the United States in 1920. The quota system allotted 132,000 of the 150,000 immigrant slots to northern Europe, and much of that was unused. Thus, immigration ceased to be a major source of labor and, with the coming of the Great Depression of the 1930s and then World War II, it became insignificant, as only 1.6 million people entered the United States between 1931 and 1950.
Post-World War II Political Focus
The economy boomed after World War II, lessening fear of job competition, but there also was mounting anti-Communism, which made political rather than economic pressures dominant. Using the example of evacuation of everyone of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast during World War II, Title II of the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 (repealed in 1971) provided for relocation camps for aliens during periods of national emergency. The McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 imposed stiff restrictions on Communists, and continued the quota system, but repealed the Oriental Exclusion Act. It also introduced a preference system, which became the model for later legislation, reserving half of the visas for workers with needed skills and relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens.
Although the nation refused to suspend the quota system in the 1930s and 1940s to permit the entrance of European Jews seeking to escape German persecution, it did do so on three occasions during the Cold War, in line with its anti-Communist policy. It was suspended in 1953, to admit refugees from Europe, including those not wanting to be repatriated to nations then under Communist rule; in 1957, for Hungarian refugees, following the unsuccessful revolt against Soviet domination; and in 1960, for refugees fleeing Castro’s Cuba. Otherwise, immigration policy continued to be based on the quota system.
Attitudes, however, had been changing. World War II had brought Americans together, literally. Sixteen million in the armed services, from every region and (white) ethnic group, trained together, fought together, and forged bonds across regional, ethnic, and religious lines. New attitudes soon after enabled the long-overdue extension of rights to African-Americans.
The Hart-Celler Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 replaced the national origins quota system with one that granted an equal number of visas to all countries. Western Hemisphere visas were set at 120,000, with no per-country limits, and visas for the Eastern Hemisphere were set at 170,000, with a 20,000 per-country limit. (In 1976, Congress set a 20,000 per-country limit for the Western Hemisphere, too.) The act also introduced a preference system, largely of family reunification, with 74 percent of visas to be issued to relatives of citizens and permanent resident aliens. Secondary preference was granted to those with special skills or skills in short supply; refugees from oppression formed a third preference category.
Following the Vietnam War, a series of acts were passed to facilitate the entrance of refugees from Indochina. The Refugee Act of 1980, designed to permit the entrance of Vietnamese boat people, defined refugees according to a United Nations definition, which includes persons from non-Communist nations, but it set a worldwide limit of 270,000 visas.
A series of amendments dealt with labor force needs, but some were designed more to curb than to facilitate entry of skilled workers. A 1970 amendment provided for the employment of nonmigrants who could perform exceptional service. The 1975 Eilberg Act required that professionals have prearranged employment to gain preference on immigration lists. The Health Professions Educational Assistance Act of 1976 determined that there was a sufficient supply of physicians and surgeons, and so established stringent requirements for immigrant admissions. In 1977, the Labor Department issued regulations requiring employers to have an Alien Employment Certificate on file indicating that foreign nationals were appropriately registered in critical areas.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
With an influx of low-skilled labor and a sharp rise in unemployment (almost 10 percent in 1982 and 1983), anti-immigrant sentiments resurfaced. Undocumented aliens were particularly resented, and accused of taking jobs from natives, depressing wages, and putting a strain on taxpayers through use of public services. The Simpson-Rodino Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was designed largely to control nondocumented immigration. It included an amnesty program allowing aliens who had lived illegally in the United States since January 1, 1982, to apply for legal residence status, and some 1.4 million ( 80 percent from Mexico) did. Amnesty had no effect on the labor market, since those qualifying already participated in the economy.
Formerly, undocumented aliens had not been allowed to work, but the IRCA also made it illegal for firms to hire them and subjected employers who did to government prosecution. Legislation in 1996 added to employer record-keeping requirements and allowed for criminal, as well as civil, sanctions for noncompliance. Sanctions on employers, however, have not worked and administration of this section of the law has proved onerous. This spring, the INS announced that it would reduce disruptive work-site raids and rely more on investigations of problem employers. INS, however, has yet to simplify the employment-eligibility verification process.
Problems involved in the employment of undocumented workers were further complicated by a 1999 labor relations ruling of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. It ruled that an employer cannot refuse to bargain with a union because some employees who voted for the union in the election were undocumented aliens. “If the employer has not terminated an employee prior to the election, in order to comply with the IRCA, the employer cannot attempt to invalidate the election by challenging the employee’s status after the election occurs.”
Immigration Policy Today
A difficulty in constructing immigration policy is that it must deal with a bifurcated labor market situation—at one end, an inflow of very low-skilled people, and, at the other, a need for high-skilled ones. The 1986 act addressed the former, but the Immigration Act of 1990, the latter. It raised the level of employment-based visas from 54,000 to 140,000 and reduced barriers for such skilled workers as outstanding professors or researchers, multinational managers and executives, and those having special business expertise.
Even so, policy remains restrictive. Companies cannot fill computer-related jobs, yet a proposal to ease that dire shortage—by hiking the number of highly skilled foreigners annually allowed to work here under a temporary visa program—ran into difficulties. Opponents, led by the AFL-CIO, claimed that admitting more foreigners would jeopardize jobs held by natives and that any shortage could be relieved by raising salaries and training more Americans. Compromise legislation, the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act, 1998, increased the 65,000 cap on H-1B (high-tech worker) visas to 115,000 in fiscal years 1999 and 2000, and to 107,500 in FY 2001—but after that, the annual limit returns to 65,000.
To meet job loss fears, the legislation provided layoff protection for Americans. H-1B dependent companies—those with workforces in which such visa holders are 15 percent or more—must promise not to lay off an American employee within 90 days of filing a petition for an H-1B professional to fill the employee’s position. Job contractors also must not place an H-1B professional in a job held by an American laid off within the previous 90 days. An employer who has hired a foreign worker for a full-time position and then finds that there is not enough work still must pay the person. Employers who violate these provisions or underpay immigrants are subject to a $35,000 fine and a three-year debarment. To encourage training more Americans, the legislation doubled the fee employers have to pay per H-1B visa (from $250 to $500). That money will be used for scholarships in mathematics, science, and engineering for low-income students and for high-skilled training under the Job Training Partnership Act. Some $75 million a year should become available, 65 percent going to training and 30 percent to scholarships.
Employers petitioning the Labor Department to permanently certify foreign workers must be very careful. Two New York ironwork companies were very recently charged with hiring foreign workers after rejecting U.S. citizens for their positions. Local 455 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers brought these cases to the attention of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices and, in both, the companies have had to provide the U.S. citizens with back pay to settle the complaints.
Summary and Conclusions
The United States could not have grown to its current global preeminence in the absence of continual immigration. From a nation of 3 million, scattered along the Atlantic coast, we are now 270 million spread to the Pacific and beyond. Newcomers became the settlers, entrepreneurs, and workers who helped build a mighty nation, and we are still in need of them. The rate of growth of the domestic labor supply has fallen sharply in recent decades and we must look to immigration for people with skills essential to an increasingly technological society.
People move from less to more economically advanced countries; today, that means they come mainly from third-world countries in Latin America and Asia. Despite fears, history demonstrates that immigrants always have become as good Americans as those who had come earlier. The problem of undocumented aliens must be addressed, but the flow of them cannot be totally halted—poor people will seek to come here whatever the risk, because the worst American jobs and housing are often far superior to what they have at home.
Concerns about low-skilled illegal immigrants should not obscure the fact that continued immigration of high-skilled people is essential. Migration involves the transfer of valuable human resources from one country to another, which leads to a more efficient world distribution of labor. Many top scientists and engineers come from other highly developed nations, including Britain and Germany, drawn here by the superior facilities for conducting advanced research. The United States benefits from this—a sending nation, unable to fully utilize its skilled workers, experiences a “brain drain,” but we enjoy a “brain gain.” Present immigration policy gives some preference to those with necessary skills, but the vast majority of immigrants admitted each year fall under the general category of “family reunification.” That preference system, moreover, works to ensure that new immigrants come from the same countries as the most recent ones, e. g., Mexico. The present policy does not permit a sufficient flow of skilled immigrants and it has been necessary to secure emergency legislation to increase the number of temporary visas.
Emergency approaches inevitably engender political opposition that results in delay and compromise and proves inadequate to meet existing needs. The process of hiring foreign workers takes too long and the 1999 H-1B visa cap of 115,000 was exhausted by June. Petitions filed after June 15 will have to be resubmitted for consideration in the fiscal year 2000 allotment. Meanwhile, vital jobs go unfilled.
Companies are severely hampered by a lack of skilled engineers and see a shortage of 400,000 workers for computer technology jobs over the next five years. A new bill has just been introduced in Congress to deal with the situation—it would raise the number of temporary visas to 200,000 for fiscal years 2000 through 2002. Another bill would establish “T” or tech visas for foreign students who recently graduated from U.S. universities with degrees in science or engineering. Even though all presidential candidates, with the exception of Patrick Buchanan, are sympathetic to industry’s plight, there is little chance of action in this session.
Indeed, we must look toward permanent, not temporary, solutions. We believe that it is sensible to maintain the current total number of immigrants legally admitted each year—but based on skill possession rather than family reunification. At recent Congressional hearings, witnesses have emphasized the need to give more weight to skills and educational attainment. Barry R. Chiswick, head of the University of Illinois economics department, suggested replacing current immigration preference criteria with a point system that favors high-skilled workers. Richard W. Judy, director of workforce development of the Hudson Institute, warned that the present policy intensifies a major problem facing the United States —a dearth of high-skilled workers and a glut of unskilled ones—and he also endorsed a point-system approach.
Global competition will intensify as we enter the twenty-first century, as more third-world countries industrialize and the former Communist nations make economic progress. It is good business sense to allow highly skilled immigrants into the United States. Without them, we endanger the tremendous economic and technological strides that the United States has made in the past two decades.