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.