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The Economic Impact of Immigration Reform

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Peter Muller, director of Immigration Policy for Intel

The best argument for increasing the number visas issued to highly skilled immigrants is the positive impact they have on the U.S. economy. A new report by the Congressional Budget Office and a “Jobs Loss Calculator” unveiled today by Compete America highlight the economic impact of immigration reform and make clear the urgency to act.

Last week, the CBO reported that legislation in the House of Representatives to increase the number of temporary and permanent visas for highly skilled workers would spur economic growth and result in an increase of $110 billion to the federal treasury over 10 years. CBO further projects increased revenue of about $400 billion in the ten years after that.

According to CBO, these numbers “would be almost entirely the result of higher income and payroll taxes stemming from a larger workforce.”

The SKILLS Visa Act would increase the number of green cards issued each year by 85,000 and would raise the cap on H-1B visas to 155,000 (plus an additional 40,000 dedicated for advanced-degree graduates of U.S. university in a STEM field). Intel supports this type of legislation because we face a shortage of visas that restricts our ability to hire highly educated, highly qualified people.

The SKILLS Visa act was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year and is awaiting action by the full House. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is the arbiter of how legislation would impact the U.S. economy and federal budget.

Last year, CBO estimated that the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate would decrease the federal budget deficit by roughly $175 billion over ten years.

While the CBO report highlights the positive economic impact of immigration reform, another study reveals the consequences of failing to reform the system.

Today, Compete America, a coalition of companies, universities and trade associations that advocates for reform of the high skilled immigration system, posted a feature on its website that calculates the number of immigrants who were unable to get work visas in the last year and the jobs they would have created if they were allowed to work here.

The coalition worked with Dr. Matthew Slaughter, an economist at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, to design the Jobs Loss Calculator. Dr. Slaughter estimates that the artificially low cap on H-1B visas in 2013 resulted in 100,000 fewer jobs being filled directly and another 400,000 that would have been indirectly created.

“That yields a conservative total estimate of 500,000 new U.S. jobs not created this year because of overly-restrictive U.S. immigration policy,” says Dr. Slaughter. “Spread across 50 five-day workweeks, this translates into 2,000 U.S. jobs not created every business day because of overly-restrictive U.S. immigration policy.”

The economic rationale for reform of the high skilled immigration system could not be more clear. Providing enough visas for highly skilled workers would give a significant boost to the U.S. economy and lower our budget deficit. By passing immigration reform this year, Congress can fix a broken system and strengthen the U.S. economy.