Economic Enhancement: How Immigration Expands the U.S. Economy

July 26th, 2016

Lower wages and native-born worker unemployment are not synonymous with immigration. More Americans are focusing on this topic as the early rounds of the 2016 presidential race included more in-depth discussion of immigration reform and the economic value immigrants provide. Regardless of the debates, immigrants are helping expand the economy to complement American workers in many sectors of the work force.

 In a recent Bipartisan Policy Center report, Culprit or Scapegoat? Immigration’s Effect on Employment and Wages, Kenneth Megan and Theresa Cardinal Brown lay out causes for native-born worker unemployment. They also examine how employment requirements differ among native- and foreign-born workers. Megan and Cardinal Brown found that many native-born workers are leaving the workforce not because of competition with foreign workers based on lower wages, but by their own choices and/or circumstances including retirement, disability or furthering their education.

Industries with lower paying, less-skilled jobs tend to attract more foreign-born workers than industries requiring more sophisticated skills. Without foreign-born workers filling these positions, economic growth would be limited it is far less likely that native-born workers would take jobs with lower wages such as these. This is especially true in cases where native-born workers are more educated.

 Foreign-born workers with higher levels of education, namely in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, find themselves competing with native-born workers for jobs. Since foreign-born workers must be sponsored by an employer to work in the U.S., obtaining STEM jobs can be more difficult. Every year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows businesses to file for H-1B visas for specialty occupation (professional) workers. The cap per year is 65,000 for workers with a bachelor’s degree, with 20,000 slots for those with advanced U.S. degrees. In recent years, the application quota has been filled in a matter of days, putting the foreign workers into a high-stakes lottery.

Some falsely assume that native-born workers lose employment opportunities to their foreign-born counterparts. In fact, employing high-skilled, foreign-born workers alongside native-born workers in STEM fields helps create more jobs. In these industries, the demand for highly-skilled employees is greater than the supply of native-born workers. Thus, employing more foreign-born workers helps to fill these gaps, leading to more productivity, higher wages and job growth.

Nearly 26 million immigrants are in the U.S. labor force. This includes both lawful permanent residents and undocumented immigrants.

Research confirms that employing immigrant workers helps the economy, and debunks the myth that immigration hinders job growth. Without immigrant members of the labor force, the U.S. economy would suffer with unfilled positions in lower-paying segments and less job creation from immigrant business owners. Enacting comprehensive immigration reform will help expand and enhance our economy even further through strong job creation.


Comment » | Immigration Policy Center

Two Lawsuits Challenge the Government’s H-1B Lottery System

June 16th, 2016

Recently, two lawsuits have been filed in federal district court challenging various aspects of the H-1B lottery system. The first case is a class action filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon against USCIS and alleges that the randomized lottery system used to select a limited number of H-1B petitions for processing is “arbitrary and capricious.” The suit asks the court to hold unlawful and set aside USCIS’s regulations that require H-1B petitions to be filed during a five-day filing window and subjecting them to a random lottery in which losing lottery filings are rejected and not assigned a priority date. The case asserts that USCIS should be issuing receipts and priority dates for all cases because there is no statutory basis for the agency to require a filing window, a random lottery, and a rejection system. Indeed, the plain language of the statute requires that H-1B petitions be processed in the order in which petitions are filed. Plaintiffs argue that an orderly priority date assignment system and waiting list should be established similar to the system in place for immigrant visa petitions. The current regulatory system results, says plaintiffs, in a potentially never-ending game of chance for petitions filed during the window each year, with some unlucky individuals trying and failing each year to obtain an H-1B number, while some lucky lottery winners obtain a visa number in the very first year a petition is filed on their behalf. The plaintiffs ask the court to order defendants (USCIS) to assign priority dates to improperly rejected H-1B petitions that are resubmitted for acceptance by members of the class; order USCIS to accept H-1B petitions throughout the year and assign priority dates; and make H-1B numbers available based on the order in which they are received. In the past four years, almost 500,000 cases have been rejected.


The second lawsuit filed against DHS and USCIS seeks declaratory, injunctive, and other appropriate relief under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information so that the public has a clear understanding of USCIS operating procedures and policies when administering the H-1B lottery. The suit was filed by a private law firm, the American Immigration Council (Council), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). It alleges that USCIS has never been forthcoming in describing the selection process. The suit is intended to let the American public and those most directly affected see how the lottery system works from start to finish, in order to learn whether the system is operating fairly. Despite the government’s stated commitment to transparency and accountability, prior attempts to learn more about how the H-1B lottery process is conducted have been resisted.

Comment » | H-1B

Our Dysfunctional H-1B Lottery

April 29th, 2016

April 1 marks the beginning of the H-1B visa application process, when U.S. companies apply for non-immigrant visas to hire high-skilled foreign workers in specialized fields. For the fourth year in a row, the cap for visa petitions was reached in just a few days’ time, with the window for FY17 applications reaching capacity on April 7.

Each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) limits H-1B acceptances to 65,000 for skilled foreign workers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and 20,000 for workers with a master’s degree or higher. Once the combined 85,000 cap is reached, the applications are put into a computerized lottery, their fate completely out of applicants’ hands.

In 2016, nearly 236,000 H-1B applications were submitted — 3,000 more than 2015 and significantly more than the 72,500 in 2014. This push shows the demand for foreign workers is continually increasing, with the growing tech industry generating some of the highest demand.

Contrary to popular belief, employing foreign-born workers alongside native workers could actually increase the total number of jobs in the U.S., with job creation steadily rising as more foreign workers are allowed in the country. This, in turn, may increase the GDP significantly over the next two decades.

To fully reap the projected economic benefits, the process must be changed. The current H-1B application process is grossly outdated, relatively unchanged for nearly 20 years. Without a green card, foreign workers can find it difficult to accept a promotion or change employers.

Updated regulations and a higher cap for applications are just a few ways the H-1B visa program can begin to improve the lives of the foreign workers hoping to find specialized jobs in the U.S. However, comprehensive immigration reform helps the U.S. benefit from these workers — and fuel greater economic growth beyond the H-1B program

Comment » | Immigration Policy Center

What Would Trump’s Immigration Plan Really Cost the U.S.?

March 30th, 2016

In the 2016 presidential race, the people of the United States are witnessing campaigns and talking points, along with the sheer number of candidates, like no other race in recent history. GOP frontrunner Donald Trump most often makes headlines for his language, especially toward immigrants, and his support for violence against those who disagree with him.

One of Trump’s most controversial plans involves sending all undocumented immigrants back to their home countries and building a wall on the U.S-Mexico border. Many of Trump’s devotees are just as supportive of the plan as he is.

 Nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the U.S., making up 5.1 percent of the labor force as of 2012. In a Trump administration, they might be rounded up and sent “home,” leaving thousands of jobs open. This does not mean a sudden surge of jobs for native-born American workers — rather, Americans may see fewer jobs and no raises. The service industry as we know it would collapse, as an estimated 35 percent of service industry jobs are made up of undocumented workers, according to Pew Research analyses based on Census data.

The actual process of deporting all 11 million or so undocumented immigrants is a costly plan, besides the blow the economy would take with the open jobs. In the two year timeframe that Trump is proposing, the overall cost would add up to at least $400 billion dollars, along with reducing the U.S. GDP by $1 trillion. Why such a high cost? The process of detaining undocumented immigrants, trying them in court and transporting them to their home countries is not built for a mass deportation; the number of federal agents would need to increase to 90,000, much higher than our current 4,000 agents. Detention facilities would require an increase in beds from 34,000 to nearly 348,831 beds, with 1,300 new courts needed to try all the individuals facing deportation. This, in turn, would require 30,000 more attorneys. The actual deportation itself would require about 87 buses and 47 chartered flights to be sent out every day for two years.

In addition to all the combined setbacks of a mass deportation, one of Trump’s biggest plans — building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. — would only add more to the financial burden the U.S. is facing. Although Trump and his supporters are adamant about making a border wall paid for by Mexico a reality, Mexican Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray said, “Mexico will under no circumstance pay for the wall Mr. Trump is proposing.” The cost for the wall alone, based on the cost of highway panels, is about $10 billion — not including other factors like surveillance, labor, equipment, and security.

Trump’s plan to “make America great again” fails to acknowledge that much of the greatness that we know today can be credited to immigrants, both documented and undocumented. We’ve seen just fractions of the costs of Trump’s immigration plan, and his plans to cut off federal grants to sanctuary cities and triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers only adds to the underlying economic problems the U.S. faces. What’s more, Trump is calling for a moratorium on green cards for foreign work, and could likely make the already complicated and drawn out process of legal immigration even more difficult.

Even so, immigrants, Mexican or otherwise, will not stop coming to the United States. Turning them away or ramping up security will help neither our economy nor those looking to live in the U.S. Under a Donald Trump presidency, the strides taken toward comprehensive immigration reform will likely be in vain, which we must keep in mind when voting in November. We know the positive impacts immigrants make on the U.S. economy through their entrepreneurship. Deporting undocumented immigrants and putting a hold on H1-B visas will not help the country continue to grow; comprehensive immigration reform will allow us to see America and its people become even greater.

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

How Cities Can Foster Growth with Immigrant Entrepreneurs

February 25th, 2016

Immigrant workers are far more entrepreneurial than many people realize. Immigrants have founded 18 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, and make up 18 percent of overall U.S. business ownership. Through a variety of businesses, immigrants are creating more jobs for American workers.

Many immigrants own Main Street businesses, such as restaurants, grocery stores and clothing stores. While many immigrants find themselves without resources to start these endeavors, some cities with large immigrant populations are developing programs to help these would-be business owners access the tools they need.

Historically, many immigrants have come to Chicago. Currently, the city’s Little Village neighborhood is home to the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, with a thriving commercial corridor along 26th Street. In fact, after downtown Chicago’s Magnificent Mile business, the 26th Street commercial corridor is the city’s second largest contributor to business tax revenue .

To foster similar development (and tax revenue), representatives from communities and sectors across the city developed the Chicago New Americans Plan to capitalize on immigrants’ potential as business owners. Through the plan, new programs help provide immigrants with resources to start their own businesses. For example, the Restaurant Startup Guide and program simplifies the business application process and specifies zoning and permit particulars, helping expedite restaurant launches.

While Chicago has served as a well-known immigrant hub for generations, other cities are now welcoming new immigrants. Dayton, Ohio created the “Welcome Dayton” plan to integrate these new residents into the community. Along with this, the Ohio Small Business Development Center, as part of the federal Small Business Administration, helps immigrants overcome the barriers to starting a business and bridge the gaps between community groups to help potential entrepreneurs learn about valuable resources.

Similarly, Nashville, Tennessee is also steadily developing resources to extend its welcome mat to immigrants. Groups like the Tennessee Immigrant Refugee Rights Coalition and Conexión Américas are working to educate immigrants on business ownership. Since its inception in 2009, the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council has transformed from bridging the city’s immigrant communities and the Metro Government to become the Nashville Mayor’s Office of New Americans. The office helps immigrants access resources for economic and educational opportunities.

While these cities’ welcoming actions are laudable, they’re also driving important conversations about what cities and immigrants want and need. Cities seeking the benefits of immigrant entrepreneurship are finding great value in offering resources to help immigrants launch new businesses. Beyond the city’s revenue streams, entire communities benefit from a strong small business climate

In turn, pairing comprehensive immigration reform with these expanded entrepreneurship programs will benefit everyone: immigrants, cash-strapped cities and communities.

Comment » | Immigration Policy Center, Immigration reform

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