The “immigrants take our jobs” mantra is based on the assumption that the US economy creates a fixed number of jobs, such that every job filled by an immigrant takes a job away from an American worker.
The basic principles of capitalism itself, as well as the wealth that the United States has produced in the midst of wave after wave of immigration, bear witness that immigrants are a benefit, not a burden, to the US labor market.
The Contribution of Immigrants to the US Economy
Extensive research backs up the common-sense conclusion that the number of available jobs in the United States is not fixed, and that immigrants end up easing labor shortages and creating more positions than they fill by:
- Helping the nation compensate for an aging baby-boom workforce. The aging of national workforces is a phenomenon that has kept some non-immigration countries, such as Japan, in economic doldrums for a generation;
- Participating in the labor force at higher rates than native-born citizens (65.7 percent vs. 62.3 percent, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) and
- Providing a critical pillar of support for various industries such as farming, fishing, food manufacturing, textiles, and construction.
Even these contributions fail to tell the whole story. The children of immigrants, for example, typically experience strong upward mobility, contributing to the US economy even more than their parents did.
Immigrants and COVID-19
16.5 percent of all US healthcare workers in the US, including more than one out of four physicians, are first-generation immigrants born outside the United States. These immigrants are serving on the dangerous front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic in disproportionately large numbers.
Restricting Eligibility for Work Visas Does Not “Save American Jobs”
Research supports the conclusion that reducing visa accessibility for skilled workers does not prompt US companies to hire American workers for the resulting vacant positions. Instead, it motivates them to move these jobs offshore by opening or expanding affiliated companies overseas.
According to a study conducted by the Wharton School of Business, “offshore” is likely to mean China, India, or Canada — China and India because of their large pool of skilled labor, and Canada because of its more relaxed immigration policies. Multinational companies enjoy the freedom to pack up and move out of an unfriendly business climate, including one that unreasonably restricts access to skilled labor.
Reversing the “Brain Drain”: Is the Tide Turning Against Us?
Between 1995 and 2006, almost 70 percent of the entrants to science and engineering fields in the US were immigrants — among them Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX. According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a new company or file a successful patent application. Foreign-born students also dominate the ranks of PhD candidates in numerous STEM fields.
These immigrants, as well as new ones whose green card petitions the Trump administration has suspended, are particularly well-placed to help the US develop and commercialize emerging technologies, including important alternative energy technologies that are more advanced overseas than they are in the US.
The current immigration climate, however, is in danger of reversing the “brain drain” that has catapulted the US to global technological dominance in so many fields. Will the next Elon Musk simply stay home (Musk grew up in South Africa but currently resides in Los Angeles) or immigrate to a country such as Canada or Australia that offers friendlier immigration climate? Such a trend will definitely not help “save American jobs.”
Undocumented Immigrants Offer Potentially Massive Contributions to the US Economy
Even undocumented immigrants are in a position to help jump-start the US economy. When immigrants of any sort enter the US labor force, they expand the country’s overall economic capacity. This increases incapacity to raise the “wage floor” for both immigrants and native-born workers alike, in the manner that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The final result is an increase in wages and employment opportunities for everyone, regardless of their immigration status.
A UCLA study, for example, found that legalizing undocumented immigrants would pump $1.5 trillion into the US economy in only a decade — enough to fund the gigantic Covid-19 economic stimulus — with another $300 billion left over ($300 billion is more than the entire annual GDP of all but 40 of the world’s nations).
The opportunity cost for the opposite extreme — deporting all undocumented immigrants as the Trump administration seems intent on– has been estimated at $2.6 trillion (considerably more than Russia’s annual GDP)