Economy & Jobs

Legal Immigration: Is It Our Secret Resource?

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Legal immigration is a hot topic in politics these days. Some of this surrounds President Barack Obama’s immigration reform, a key component of which would allow five million undocumented immigrants to work legally in the U.S. (based on certain criteria). The reform is currently frozen pending a federal lawsuit.

In an ad for the Daytona 500, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says, “Immigration is part of the secret sauce that makes America work. More people are a resource. They’re an asset; they’re not a liability.” With all of the pro- and anti-immigration campaigns out there, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of legal immigration for a better understanding of its impact on families, taxes, and the nation at large.

Pros of Legal Immigration

  • Immigration can provide sources of less expensive labor in arenas that often have vacant jobs, such as tourism and agriculture.
  • By loosening the reins on legal immigration, fewer families will live under the shadow of deportation. More families will be able to stay together rather than be split up, allowing for these individuals to provide greater contributions to the workforce and the economy.
  • Tax revenues can increase as the number of legal U.S. immigrants increases, with more people opening up businesses and creating jobs. This can be a huge boon for the government if enough people are able to legally immigrate.
  • The economy can grow when more young immigrants are empowered to start businesses and build lives in the United States, rather than living here covertly.

Cons of Legal Immigration

  • Higher numbers of legal immigrants means that more money may be needed at the state and local level to cover additional legal workers and process them. This money has to come from somewhere, and the price might be covered by increased taxes.
  • Increased immigration can lead to greater competition for jobs in a market already overflowing with unemployed citizens.

Restricting the Immigration of Highly Skilled Workers

A big concern with current U.S. immigration legislation is that overly restrictive rules can prevent many highly skilled workers, such as doctors or engineers, from becoming U.S. citizens. These workers often apply for a temporary H-1B visa in order to get their feet in the door, since H-1B visas allow for the dual intent of eventually immigrating into the United States. Some choose the H-1B path because getting a different employment-based visa can take many years. Although the exact wait time depends on such factors as country of origin, many employment-based visas for specially skilled workers, such as those with advanced degrees in sciences, are just being processed for some 2003 applicants. Unfortunately, temporary H-1B visas can also be hard to get. Only 85,000 H-1B visas are given each year, which is far below the number of applicants. The visa only lasts for up to three years, though it can be renewed for another three. In addition, entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the U.S. don’t qualify for an H-1B.

Although there are many pros and cons to legal immigration, many experts believe that in the end, the benefits outweigh the risks. Restrictive visas often keep out people who could truly contribute to the economy, such as promising engineers. But the United States has historically been a destination for immigrants, and the right immigration reform could help qualified people (and their families) enter the country and boost our economy.