A lot of people are saying that low birth rate in the U.S. (now 1.64, close to Europe’s and below the replacement rate of 2.1) justifies a higher level of immigration for economic prosperity. This argument is weak, unsupported in my view by a plausible model that higher population growth translates in more economic prosperity per person or household. However, I agree with idea that a higher level of immigrating workers than the trend in the past 20 years is good for our economy.
The Biden immigration proposal (here) does this by greatly increasing the flow of employment-based immigration, from 12% to 34% (with an overall increase from about 1.1 million to 1.5 million a year).
The Migration Policy Institute shows that employment based immigration is crippled by several severe problems. First, the 140,000 or so cap on employment based green cards (the source of the 12% figure) produces much fewer workers, because the 140,000 figure includes spouses and children. In fact, only about 77,000 workers (7% of total immigration) is for workers who awarded green cards on the basis of their work.
There is a very skewed, huge backlog: “If everyone with an approved petition in the backlog for an employment-based green card as of November 2020 stayed in that line until a green card became available, Indian nationals would wait an impossible 223 years for a second-preference category (EB-2) green card, while workers from countries other than India and China would face no wait at all.”
And, there is an overburdened, high overhead temporary work visa system. “In fiscal year (FY) 2019, the State Department issued 644,000 multiyear visas to temporary workers and their spouses—nearly five times more than the number of employment-based green cards available each year. Nearly half of those visas went to H-1B workers and their dependents, a growing number of whom stay in the country past the normally allowed six years while waiting in line for green cards.”
The severe constraints on legal employment immigration and temporary work visas encourages persons to come to work illegally, primary through visa over-stays (less so border crossings).
The Biden proposal, and even the “Dignity” proposal of Republican congress members (here), contemplate the historic legal overhaul leading to higher numbers of immigrants on the basis of employment.
Jorge Castaneda, a Mexican who has spent many years in the U.S, as a student, faculty member, and diplomat, has written America Through Foreign Eyes (2020). He writes with sometimes unsettling insight about the United States. He devotes much attention to immigration, in four frames of reference:
The role of early European migration: European migrants killed and drove out Native Americans, imported slaves from Africa, drove out Mexicans. They did not bring over the authoritarian European institutions of class, church and state. These early white European migrants established the first mass middle class in the world. This social/political arrangement, internally democratic for white males and anti-democratic to all others, is the hallmark of America political culture. Voter suppression efforts today hark back to the exclusive democracy of the 18th C. [Castaneda does not use this term, but he is saying that from the first European settlements the U.S. has performed as a gate community.]
The role of immigration in American 20th Century economic prosperity: “American openness to the rest of the world…has made an enormous difference in terms of plowing invention in the profits. It could not flourish without a welcoming attitude toward immigration, without which these inventors would not have ventured far from their shores. Had their products, services, attitudes and experimentation not been well received in the United States, they would not have thrived.” (page 146).
America as the engine of today’s global modern mass culture: “Why have so many foreign cultural talents worked in the United States? …. United States is the first country to produce a mass culture. While over the centuries, European, Latin American, and Asian nations constructed literature, philosophy, art, architecture, and music for the very few, the United States lacked the authoritarian history, centralized religion, and monarchy or institutions that favored elitist culture. Instead, with the emergence of the world’s first middle class society in the earlier early 20th century, cultural products were generated and for these new consumers in the same way as cars, homes, and ice boxes.” (page 59). This feature of American culture continues to attract outstanding cultural talent from around the world.
On immigration of lower skilled workers: America has a long tradition of importing Latino workers to meet the labor demand of employers. American attitudes about immigration mix pragmatism and hypocrisy. We want these workers to keep costs of goods and services low but we also want to say it must be legal. This results in selective immigration law enforcement. [PFR: failure of every administration to impose effective demands on employers to verify employment status is a feature of selective enforcement.] Latinos are a “better fit” in the US than migrants to Europe from Muslim and African counties, in part because their religious practices are more compatible. The real reason for conservative opposition to legalization is that those legalized will bring their families, and two thirds will vote Democratic.
Immigrants and their U.S.-born children number approximately 85.7 million people, or 26 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS), a slight decline from 2019. The Pew Research Center has projected that the immigrant-origin share of the population will rise to about 36 percent by 2065.
This longish posting compares Canadian and American immigration policies. It is useful to read because immigration reform here will most likely make our system look more like Canada’s.
Michael Cuenco wrote in American Affairs Spring 2021 issue, “Immigration and Citizenship: The Canadian Model and the American Dream.” He captures in a few words Canada’s “middle class” immigration system and criticizes flaw in the American system. He would like the U.S. system not to mirror the Canadian system but to be much more capable – better application of governmental powers of administration. Cuenco says that the U.S. should adopt Canada’s workforce-oriented point system, but I think Cuenco’s main concern is not the workforce issue so much as the “archaic anti-system” nature of American immigration. (For a summary of Canada’s system, posted in 2017, go here. Here and here is my analysis of how a point system would affect American immigration, posted in 2007.)
Cuenco praises the “Canadian government bureaucracy that is entrusted with administering the points system; helping to enforce the SIN Code of Practice (Canada’s version of mandatory E-Verify); overseeing the flow of temporary foreign workers; among countless other mundane but crucial administrative tasks that go into the operation of the most highly reputed immigration system in the world. (Trump’s advisers should have known this since they repeatedly claimed Canada as a model.”
“Canada’s immigration system fosters a greater degree of social and economic coherence.” Cuenco, who lives in Canada, says this is due to Canada focusing most of its immigration flow on the “global middle class.” Its point system favors the English/French fluent, “skilled, educated, financially secure, upwardly mobile, entrepreneurial, and so forth, drawn from the ranks of the globalized middle classes of many nations.”
“The consistency of immigrant economic habits and outcomes across multiple ethnic backgrounds, and their convergence around the middle-class ethos, suggest that the philosophy animating Canadian immigration is not so much multiculturalism but what might rather be called “globalized Calvinism.” Consequently, instead of describing the kind of society that this system produces as a multicultural “mosaic,” a better way to think of Canada’s social template might be something along the lines of a multiracial “confederation of the middle classes.”
The global middle class has grown significantly in the past two decades. (Go here).
“The United States now has less of an immigration system and more of an intentionally anarchic “anti-system” in place.”
Politically moderate people in the U.S. almost always place employer verification of the legal work status of employees as an essential element in immigration reform. In the U.S., employers are not required to verify legal status through e-Verify. The Trump administration made no effort to make e-Verify use mandatory. In Canada, employers are subjected to much stricter verification rules tied to the Social Insurance Number (SIN).
Cuenco recounts how the 1986 reform act legalized several million persons. “The one policy that might conceivably make the provisions of the 1986 law more enforceable and render the system as a whole more coherent is national mandatory E-Verify, and this was of course opposed by Donald Trump and his administration…. The “Canadian example suggests that universal employment verification is probably the single most effective way to enforce immigration laws, more so than either a border wall or arbitrary ICE raids.”
“As for the wall, it would never be built, nor was that ever the plan. As with so much else in the Trump era, the purpose was purely symbolic and rhetorical…. Near the end of Trump’s term, the Houston Chronicle would report that “Barrack Obama’s ICE arrested and deported more than twice as many people during his first term in office.”.”
To reform the “anarchic anti-system”, four policy objectives “should concern any progressive administration: (1) accounting for the legal status of the existing unauthorized population; (2) establishing an enforceable standard of labor market security through employment verification; (3) transitioning to a high-skills immigration system; and (4) stemming migrant flows at the southern border by taking a regional approach to addressing the causes of outmigration.”
“As of this writing, the Biden administration has most vigorously pursued the first and fourth of these through its proposed U.S. Citizenship Act, while it has downplayed the second and effectively disregarded the third.” (I disagree with Cuenco on 3; see my posting on the Biden proposal here.)
Some findings from a survey of these households:
About half of adults in low-income immigrant families reported that the pandemic negatively affected their or a family member’s employment (51.8 percent).
Many adults in low-income immigrant families reported being worried about paying for basic needs in the next month, including having enough to eat (43.2 percent) and being able to pay rent or a mortgage (50.8 percent), utility bills (49.1 percent), or medical costs (52.1 percent).
More than 1 in 4 adults in low-income immigrant families (27.5 percent) reported they or a family member avoided noncash benefits or other help with basic needs because of green card or other immigration concerns in 2020.
Adults reported avoiding programs targeted by the expanded public charge rule, such as SNAP, but also avoided programs excluded from the rule, such as unemployment insurance, free or low-cost medical care for uninsured people, and emergency rental assistance.
From the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, a nationally representative internet-based survey conducted in December 2020
I recently posted about the higher output in scientific research in the U.S. Now let’s look at the wage impact of a less educated worker migrating from a developing country to the U.S. It turns out that the person’s real wage goes up four times, and this is due largely to higher productivity in the U.S.
Researchers estimated the income differences between 42 developing countries and the United States. They focused on males 35–39 years old, with nine to twelve years of education acquired in the their home country. They used the real cost of living gap. (For example, in 2021 you can have the same standard of living in Colombia with 43% of the income in the U.S.; in Nigeria, 36%). They then compared the wage one receives in the home country vs. the U.S. Wages in the U.S. are so much higher that they far make up for the higher cost of living.
The researchers found that these working migrating to the U.S. increase their real earnings by 395% or more.
The real wage gap can be mostly explained by higher productivity of the American workforce. How does higher productivity happen? Through three forces: more technological know-how; efficiency of production involving many factors (such as quality of transportation); and the state of education. (From Productivity Differences Between and Within Countries, by Daron Acemoglu and Melissa Dell, 2010.)
From a March 2021 Atlantic article by George Packer:
In a Senate speech on April 23, 1975 Joe Biden argued that the president lacked the authority to rescue any Vietnamese. “I do not believe the United States has an obligation, moral or otherwise, to evacuate foreign nationals” other than diplomats of third countries, Biden said. “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese.” The U.S. should leave the task of protecting them to “the organizations that are available” and “diplomatic channels,” he added. A week later, North Vietnamese tanks entered the grounds of the presidential palace in Saigon just hours after the last helicopter carried the last Americans out of Vietnam.
Seventeen thousand Afghans…. are waiting for the machinery of the U.S. government to decide their fate. The process is so byzantine and opaque that even American lawyers representing Afghan clients have a hard time navigating it. Applications for a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV—including proof of U.S. employment, a letter of recommendation from a U.S. supervisor who might have left Afghanistan years before, employee badges, and a statement of threats—go first to a building in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that houses the National Visa Center. There they disappear into a bureaucratic black hole, often for two or three years at a time. The SIV section is staffed by only a handful of people, mostly contractors.
Within 100 days American troops will depart from Afghanistan. Apparently the Defense Dept has no plans for evacuation of our civilian allies in the country.
A bipartisan letter from Congress says that the Biden Administration has failed to put in place a means for immediate transfer of some 18,000 Afghanistan citizens through an Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.
The U.S. brought out 130,000 Vietnamese.
The New York Times reports that in the last three months of 2020 alone, State Department statistics show, 1,646 Afghans were denied one of the special visas, which are issued to applicants satisfying demanding requirements and rigorous background checks even though interpreters would already have passed security screenings. Among reasons cited for denial were the failure to prove the required length of service, insufficient documentation, failure to establish “faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information.”
Nearly 21,000 visas were issued to Afghans from 2009 to March 2021, according to State Department figures. Just under 11,000 visas are still available.
John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on June 2 that the Defense Department had “put some planning resources” into a potential evacuation. He said that no evacuation had been ordered but that if a command came, “we will be ready to execute.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said late last month that it had temporarily increased consular staffing to help expedite S.I.V. applications amid rising demand and Covid-19 restrictions. Staffing has also been beefed up in Washington, where much of the application processing is completed, the embassy said.
I’ve mentioned how dysfunction in the judicial system is at the core of the Mexican border program. In October 2020 there were 1.3 million cases with a average time to trial of 900 days.
In late April a bipartisan group submitted legislation aimed at improving the judicial process. The legislation is here. The sponsors wrote the “The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act….to respond to the surge in migrants coming across our southern border. The bill would improve both the Department of Homeland Security’s and the Department of Justice’s capacity to manage migration influxes and adjudicate asylum claims in a timely manner, protect unaccompanied migrant children, reduce impact on local communities, ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely, and ultimately deter those who do not have realistic asylum claims from placing themselves in danger by making the treacherous journey to our southern border.”
The bill has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Immigration Forum, National Border Patrol Council, American Business Immigration Coalition, Texas Association of Business, New American Economy, Americans for Prosperity and The LIBRE Initiative.
The Migration Policy Institute issued in 2018 a study of the asylum process which is still valid today. Extremely long delays were undermining the system of asylum. The MPI’s recommendations are entirely focused to getting asylee petitions addressed by knowledgeable officers as quickly as possible.
This report underscores my observation that a breakdown in the legal process of immigration applications is at the core of the Mexican border crisis, though by no means the only factor. Judicial systems have a knack for getting screwed up over surges in demand.
Today’s asylum laws were enacted in Refugee Act of 1980. A breakdown in processing petitions occurred due to influx of Cuban and Central American applicants, and reforms were made in the 1990s. Applications soared again in the 2010s, rising from 28,000 in 2010 t0 143,000 in 2017. The Trump Administration’s main response was to narrow the scope of permitted asylum criteria. The MPI rejected this study this strategy.
An indepth analysis of border apprehension cycles over decades is here.