We Shouldn't Cut Immigration in Half. We Should Increase It

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

I want to make sure I understand this. President Trump is supporting an immigration bill from GOP Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue that would replace, as The New York Times explains, “a system that favors family ties in deciding who can legally move to the United States with one based on skills and employability.”

So more a merit-based system that gives an edge to those who have advanced skill and restricts those who don’t.

The end result here, according to The Wall Street Journal paraphrasing a Cotton aide, is that “the legislation would decrease overall immigration to about 638,000 in its first year—a 41 percent drop—and to about 540,000 by its 10th year—a 50 percent reduction. The number of employment-based green cards issued each year would remain at 140,000.”

A few things:

First, the US is hardly an immigration outlier here, whether it’s the average annual inflow of immigrants as a percent of population or the stock of immigrants as a percent of the population.

Second, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that “the impact of immigration on average native-born workers remains small and inconsistent, with no evidence to show a large detrimental impact on less-educated workers.”

GettyImages-826979538 Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, New York, on August 6, 2017, making their way towards the Canada/US border. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty

Third, economists strongly agree that the average US citizen would be better off if a larger number of highly educated foreign workers were legally allowed to immigrate to the US each year.

Fourth, a demographic-driven slowdown in US labor force growth means real GDP growth is likely to be slower in the future than in the past.

Fifth, slower labor force growth means we need faster productivity. And “evidence also shows that immigrant scientists and entrepreneurs play a disproportionate role in driving the technological advances that power productivity growth in the United States.”

So given all that, isn’t this bill off point? How about a bill to sharply boost overall immigration with an emphasis on attracting many, many more immigrant scientists and entrepreneurs?

This from McKinsey: “The nation could generate tremendous impact on productivity in the near term and beyond 2020 by increasing the annual flow of high-skilled immigrants.”

And as I have also noted:

Roughly half of U.S.-based unicorns — technology startups worth at least $1 billion — were founded by immigrants , with India the top nation of origin.

As venture capitalist Paul Graham tweets , “This is a good time to remember that without immigration the U.S. will only have 5 percent of the top people in each field.”

And more to the point regarding the Trump ban, as The Atlantic notes , “Iranian-Americans founded or hold leadership positions at Twitter, Dropbox, Oracle, Expedia, eBay, and Tinder.”

If a smart person with a good idea wants to do great things, shouldn’t America be the place that helps make that ambition happen?

James Pethokoukis is a columnist at the American Enterprise Institute.