Restricting Legal Immigration Only Harms -- Not Protects -- American Workers

By reducing immigration levels, the government is cutting off its nose to spite its face.
02/19/2017 08:26 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2017
JASON CONNOLLY via Getty Images

While the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries remains in legal limbo, two Republican senators have set their sights on legal immigration.

Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia introduced The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act which promises to cut immigration levels in half to “historical norms”

Cotton and Perdue argue that millions of immigrants, most of them low skilled, are driving down wages for American workers. They believe that by reducing immigration levels to 500,000 a year, and in some cases cutting out certain categories of immigration, the downward pressure on wages will be slowed as would global competition for limited job placements.

Their plan is threefold:

· Eliminate certain permanent residence (green card) categories, namely for siblings, parents, and other members of a legal immigrant’s extended family.

· Reduce the number of refugee applications for permanent residence to 50,000 per year

· End the diversity lottery program.

But what these Senators ignore is that for companies to grow and to compete, they must play ball in the global playground. That means they must be given access to the widest labor pool available.

America is the world’s biggest economy for a reason: its companies are relentless when it comes to searching out talent, that includes talent from beyond the borders. But does that mean American workers are being left out in the cold?

It’s not that American companies don’t want to hire Americans first. Mining your own backyard comes with fewer risks than recruiting globally. Assessing and verifying a candidate’s foreign credentials, performing background checks aboard, incurring relocation costs and dealing with immigration laws are but a few of the hassles that companies must endure when hiring foreign workers.

But our own pond is just too shallow― there’s not enough qualified candidates to go around. Our failed education system has not pumped out enough graduates with the in-demand skills to compete. Meanwhile, employers must contend with regulatory hurdles such as minimum wage laws and other obstacles making it more difficult to hire local.

By reducing immigration levels, the government is cutting off its nose to spite its face. The more human capital permitted to freely flow across borders, the more competitive American companies become. And that is good not just for their bottom line but it frees up more capital for investment, resulting in more employment for everybody including American workers who do qualify. In other words, there is a net benefit gained from immigration for all stakeholders (immigrants, companies, employees and consumers).

Refugee and family-based immigration do not typically generate the most desirable labor pool for employers. Refugee populations are mixed at best when it comes to employability. But there’s an indirect economic benefit from this group. The children and grandchildren of these immigrants grow up here, are educated here, and, like their parents and grandparents, are highly motivated to succeed.

Immigrants from all categories generally are seeking better opportunities for personal and economic growth which why they uprooted their lives to come here—often at great personal and financial risk.

Statistics confirm that most do not come to “leach off the system” – they come to live out the American dream. And the more “dreamers” kicking around, whether they be first or second generation immigrants, the more competitive our own labor pool becomes. And that gives American companies more incentive to hire American.

If Republicans want to help raise wages for Americans, their target should be deregulation of American businesses and not restricting the flow of human capital by reducing immigration levels.

Michael Niren is an immigration lawyer and the CEO of VisaPlace.com

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