Category: Immigration reform


Legislators Look to Highly Skilled Immigrants to Revive Startup Activity

February 23rd, 2015 — 5:49pm

Despite the buzz surrounding Silicon Valley, startup activity in the U.S. has been in decline. In fact, business “deaths” have been outpacing business “births” for several years. That’s bad news for the U.S. economy, which depends on the large share of jobs created by new businesses every year.

However, highly skilled immigrant workers could help reverse this trend. And the latest version of the Startup Act, if passed, might help open some doors.

Proposed by Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the Act is intended to revive America’s entrepreneurial economy. The Act would create an “entrepreneur visa” that would allow up to 75,000 non-citizens to start and grow a business in the U.S., meeting certain benchmarks over a three-year period. The Act also includes a new visa category for up to 50,000 foreign-born students who graduate from U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (known as STEM skills). Currently, these students—the world’s best and brightest—are required to leave after completing their studies here. The Act would also eliminate caps on the number of work visas that can be granted to individuals from each country.

Critics say the U.S. is already saturated with high-skilled STEM workers who could siphon off jobs or lower wage scales and salary expectations. However, even in the current system, visas designed for foreign workers with STEM expertise are portable; these are often highly skilled professionals, well compensated and free to move on to other positions. A study from the Harvard Business School found that the program for foreign workers “has played an important role in U.S. innovation patterns” over the past 15 years. In fact, patents increase when visa caps are higher. And of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that even immigrants who have earned degrees in non-STEM areas are vital to creating new businesses. The founders of PayPal, YouTube and Skype are just a few examples.

With the current immigration climate in Washington, the Start-Up Act has had trouble gaining traction—even after three iterations since 2011. But the fourth time may be the charm. And if it passes, the U.S. economy and its workers stand to reap the benefits.

Comment » | Immigration reform

National League Versus American? The Disconnect Between Federal and Local Attitudes on Immigration.

January 25th, 2015 — 4:24pm

Between President Obama’s Executive Action on immigration and the upcoming presidential election, there has been a great deal of rhetoric about immigration at the federal level. Positive actions, however, are almost entirely taking place at the local and state level.

What is happening – and why is there such a disconnect?

Cities are almost overwhelmingly in favor of a more welcoming attitude towards immigrants. From the Cities for Citizenship campaign, a national initiative working to increase citizenship among eligible permanent residents, to Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, city leaders are looking to community partnerships and other collaborative strategies to drive immigrant integration.

And while half of the states have joined a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive action on immigration, many local leaders in those states have come out in support of it. In early December, Cities United for Immigration Action was launched by a coalition of almost 50 mayors of cities spanning the country.

Not all news at the state and federal level is negative, though. Three years ago, Florida almost passed a bill that would have required law enforcement to check the status of anyone  believed to be in the country without legal status. This May, it became one of 15 states to pass DREAM Act legislation allowing young undocumented immigrants to pay the same in-state college tuition rates as other Florida residents.

And as of January 1, 2015, California and Connecticut became the latest states to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Response was unprecedented – California had 17,000 applicants by the end of opening day and the California Department of Motor Vehicles projects some 1.4 million immigrants will seek licenses over the next three years. In Connecticut more than 6,500 undocumented residents obtained testing appointments online the first day they were available.

And in the courts, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring workplace raids targeting suspected illegal immigrants by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The judge said it was likely the advocates seeking the injunction would prevail in their U.S. District Court lawsuit claiming that the raids are unconstitutional and that federal law trumps two state statutes used to back them. Courts also have struck down Arizona’s human smuggling law and ban on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Two explanations immediately come to mind for the difference between local and national political attitudes towards immigration. The first is purely political – elected officials supporting or proposing legislation or other acts that they believe will boost their standings in the polls, particularly with their base. This certainly explains politicians who vocally endorse laws that have almost no chance of being either passed or brought to a vote.

The second explanation is of greater concern. Perhaps elected officials on the ground in our cities and towns see the real impact of immigrants and immigration policies on our communities. According to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, immigrants contribute to growth in many counties, particularly in growing regions of the country such as Sun Belt South, Mountain West, and Pacific Northwest regions. City officials in those regions can see how immigrants contribute – and how policies discouraging immigrants from fully participating in the local economy inhibit growth.

As states pursue lawsuits spurred by Obama’s executive action, and federal policymakers seek to block its enactment, we can only hope that pressure from our cities offsets and ultimately overwhelms national-level anti-immigration bias.

 

Comment » | Immigration reform

The Benefits of Obama’s Executive Action

December 5th, 2014 — 5:43pm

What’s the Plan?

On November 20th, 2014, President Obama finally announced his plans for executive action on immigration reform. While it’s only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, it will help almost half of all undocumented immigrants gain official status — nearly five million people.

President Obama’s plan extends the temporary relief from deportation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. In order to temporarily stay in the U.S. for 3 years, qualified individuals will have pass a background test and pay any back taxes. The plan also moves the window to include even more DREAMERs.

Who Benefits

The most obvious benefit will be improved quality of life for many undocumented immigrants. Moving from the shadows and into a fully recognized status can mean more opportunities, more work, and greater stability for their families. Also, many currently working in the gray economy will see an increase in wages.

That will also result in increased tax revenue for the U.S. Previously, only a third of undocumented workers and the people that employed them paid payroll taxes. Now, with official status, we can expect to see an increase in the gross domestic product up to .9% (nearly $210 billion over 10 years). The first year alone will net the federal government $3 billion.

But what about the “increased competition” for low-wage work? Many experts believe that the plan will lead to an increased average wage of about .3%. While not much, it’s certainly not the fall in wages that most opponents of immigration reform expect. And now that nearly one half of undocumented immigrants will compete on an even playing field with citizens, there won’t be such a large potential source of below-minimum-wage labor. Many companies have been asking for reform like this for quite a while.

Who Doesn’t Benefit

President Obama’s plan leaves some immigrants undocumented and negatively impacts at least one industry.

First, undocumented immigrants who arrived within the last five years don’t qualify. This means that over 10,000 Central Americans who have fled the violence in their countries since 2010 will remain undocumented for the time being.

Second, the private prison industry will lose out on the massive amounts of detainees awaiting deportation. While it’s unfortunate that an industry will take a hit as a result of the president’s actions, fewer detainees is generally a good thing.

Why It’s Good For Us

The President’s plan is certainly the temporary help that many both citizens and undocumented immigrants need — it’s just not the overarching reform that the U.S. desperately needs. While critics have found way to admonish the President, ImmigrationPolicy.org notes that every president since Eisenhower has executed similar executive actions for certain groups on immigrants. With nearly 39 examples, executive action for immigrants is essentially a Presidential precedent at this point.

Hopefully this plan will push Congress to finally bring meaningful reform when they see how much it helps immigrants, citizens and businesses all over the U.S.

 

Comment » | Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

The Immigration Reform Investment: More Legal Workers, More Tax Revenue

October 6th, 2014 — 2:35pm

As Congress continues to ignore one of the most important issues of this generation, the U.S. is losing valuable tax money. Without a safe path to legal work, many migrant workers don’t pay taxes, nor do their employers. In 2013, the Senate passed a bill that could have changed that, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Also known as S. 744, the law would have provided a path to legal status for millions of undocumented workers in the United States. The House never even considered S. 744.

The Social Security Administration and Pew Research estimated that nearly 63% of undocumented workers don’t contribute to taxes. The 33% who do pay taxes currently contribute roughly $13 billion a year. S. 744 could have potentially tripled that number. The federal government wouldn’t be the only beneficiary — the Center for American Progress (CAP) believes that over a 10-year period, undocumented immigrants would pay $40 billion more in state and local taxes.

With legal status, migrant workers would be able to get better wages — CAP estimates undocumented workers’ wages could grow around 15% with legal status, and an additional 10% after citizenship. Higher wages for undocumented workers means they could contribute enough to reduce the federal deficit by $820 billion over 20 years, according to ImmigrationImpact.com. Thirty years of the additional taxes could extend Medicare for four years. And we could add $606 billion to Social Security, potentially funding 2.4 million more American retirements. But partisan politics have put any meaningful debate on hold, and our costly and broken immigration system continues to do more harm than good.

To put things in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers for the potential law. By their calculations, every dollar spent on implementing S. 744 could mean two more dollars in taxes, effectively doubling the initial investment and making millions of peoples’ lives better. Beyond simple compassion, beyond American progress, immigration reform is a great investment. But political agendas stand firmly in the way of actual legislation, and undocumented workers continue to live and work in hiding.

Even temporary deferred action could bring in a significant amount — nearly $4.5 billion in the first year alone. And that number only includes undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. for 10 years or more. If President Obama offered deferred action to undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. for 5 years or more, the U.S. could collect $6 billion in the first year.

The numbers speak for themselves — immigration reform could have a major impact on the economy. Hopefully Congress can get past the partisan bickering and make some progress.

 

Comment » | Immigration reform

Executive Action: Using a Band Aid When We Need a Cast

September 15th, 2014 — 2:33pm

For the past 10 years, the debate on immigration reform has only intensified. With Congress repeatedly failing to act on any meaningful legislation for the sake of partisan politics, someone needs to step up and address the problem. And that someone should be President Obama.

With legislative gridlock firmly in place, official policy has been to simply reinforce the same broken laws — to the tune of $18 billion dollars per year. We currently spend over $3.5 billion more on immigration and border enforcement that all other federal law enforcement combined.

But President Obama doesn’t have much room to really make any permanent difference in immigration laws as his options are temporary solutions to a long-term issue. The controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may serve as a model for next steps.

The president has the ability to determine how to enforce the laws, meaning that the Department of Homeland Security — the agency responsible for immigration enforcement — can decide to target higher-risk individuals and focus less on the undocumented parents or other relatives of citizens and the so-called DREAMers.

The president can also create a procedure for these individuals to come forward and seek out temporary relief until Congress can enact permanent reform legislation. This way, undocumented immigrants who are contributing members of our society can remain with family, local economies can stabilize and we can focus on the dangerous individuals trying to make their way into the US.

Since 2001, over 4,000,000 undocumented immigrants have been deported — 2,000,000 during Obama’s administration alone. Expansion of DACA is the first step in the right direction.

It’s important to remember that deferring actions is an administrative decision, meaning that these solutions aren’t the lasting legislation that we so desperately need. The next administration could reverse any decisions made by President Obama. For now though, temporary relief can help ease the burden of a broken immigration system.

 

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration reform

Back to top