The main argument made against providing more green cards or temporary visas for high skilled immigrants is that it would mean fewer jobs for U.S. workers. Such concern is based on the mistaken impression that there is only a fixed number of jobs and the entry of any newcomer to the labor market must mean bad news for an incumbent jobholder. Of course, that concern does not reflect how a market economy functions.
Now there is new evidence from a respected economist that high skilled foreign nationals create more jobs for Americans. The report from American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy – a copy of the study can be found here – was conducted by Madeline Zavodny, a professor of economics at Agnes Scott College and former research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
The report carried four main conclusions. First, that immigrants with advanced degrees, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) fields create more jobs for U.S.-born workers. According to Zavodny, “The data comparing employment among the fifty states and the District of Columbia show that from 2000 to 2007, an additional 100 foreign-born workers in STEM fields with advanced degrees from U.S. universities is associated with an additional 262 jobs among U.S. natives.”
Second, the study found positive employment benefits from both low skill (H-2B) and high skill (H-1B) temporary visas. “The data show that states with greater numbers of temporary workers in the H-1B program for skilled workers and H-2B program for less-skilled nonagricultural workers had higher employment among U.S. natives. Specifically, adding 100 H-1B workers results in an additional 183 jobs among U.S. natives. Adding 100 H-2B workers results in an additional 464 jobs for U.S. natives,” according to the analysis.
Third, the research addresses concerns that more immigrants entering the labor force hurt U.S. workers. The study concluded, “The analysis yields no evidence that foreign-born workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt U.S. employment.”
Fourth, immigrants with a high education level are major fiscal contributors to the United States. Zavodny writes, “In 2009, the average foreign-born adult with an advanced degree paid over $22,500 in federal, state, and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA, or Social Security and Medicare) taxes, while their families received benefits one-tenth that size through government transfer programs like cash welfare, unemployment benefits, and Medicaid.”
Zavodny believes it’s possible the research underestimated the benefits of high skill immigration. “There are two reasons to think that this study, which uses annual, state-level data over a ten-year period, may actually underestimate the job-creating effects of highly skilled immigrants. First, it does not capture long-run effects if the economy benefits more from immigrants in the long run than in the short run (as suggested by other recent research). Second, it does not capture ‘spillover effects’ if immigrants create jobs in states other than the one where they work (for example, more immigration in California leads businesses to also create new jobs at a subsidiary in Indiana).”
The study was praised by elected officials who favor more liberalized immigration policies. “At a time when job creation should be our highest priority, the study released today casts light on some of the greatest potential areas for growth, at no cost to taxpayers,” said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, co-chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “It’s time for Washington to restart the conversation on immigration reform – and to center it on our economic needs.”
While the research is not likely to cause critics of immigration to throw up their hands and concede defeat, the study represents important evidence that America and Americans gain from being open to immigrants.