Senator Cotton on immigration

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a New York Times op-ed column on December 28 which can be broken down into a few policy prescriptions. His basic message is to call for “a large reduction in legal immigration and a reorientation toward ultra-high-skill immigrants.”

The pitch: economic gains to American workers.

He writes that “Higher wages, better benefits and more security for American workers are features, not bugs, of sound immigration reform.”

Increase the share of green cards awarded on the basis of work skills.

The United States awards permanent residency (green cards) far more on the basis of family re-unification than 22 other countries. (I am drawing on a study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin of April 2013.) Among these countries, only six commit at least 25% of permanent residency awards on the basis of work. For the other immigrant-friendly countries, work-based permanent residency awards are about 22% (Australia), 23% (New Zealand) and 26% (Canada). The share for the U.S. is about 5%, per Holtz-Eakin’s analysis.

Reduce low skilled immigration

Cotton appears to view that low skilled immigration arises from family reunification awards and illegal immigration. He implies that employers who want cheap labor are the chief advocates for low skilled immigration. This includes corporate agriculture. He also says that “professionals get cheaper personal services like housekeeping” thanks to low skilled immigration.

Reduce total immigration

Cotton does not set a target figure for permanent awards, but he does imply that one million a year is way too many.

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