The President's Proposals for Legal Immigration Reform are Bad Economic Policy | Invest & Innovate | Steve Levy | Palo Alto Online |

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By Steve Levy

The President's Proposals for Legal Immigration Reform are Bad Economic Policy

Uploaded: Aug 2, 2017

President Trump has proposed to reform the legal immigration system by:
--restricting family based immigration
--keeping the 140,000 labor market based admissions but switching them to a point system
--capping refugee admissions at 50,000 per year
--eliminating the “diversity” lottery for immigration admission

These proposals (primarily the first one) would reduce annual immigration levels from roughly 1,000,000 to just over 500,000

The President alleges these proposals will help American workers and particularly those injured by legal low wage immigrants.

These proposals will hurt, not improve American economic prospects and are ineffective approaches to helping American workers more fully participate in the job market.

I believe, as do most economists and business owners, that the nation needs more, not fewer, legal immigrants.

I am sympathetic to designing a system that is more based on labor market needs and am open to reexamining the family based admissions. That is a position widely shared by economist who study labor markets as I do. But these are separable issues from reducing overall legal immigration levels.

If the President were serious about moving to a more labor demand based legal immigration system, he would have proposed a substantial increase in labor based admissions rather than keeping the current 140,000 annual target.

If the President were serious about making a more labor demand based legal immigration system, he would have recognized that employers are seeking workers at ALL skill levels, not just college graduates.

A high skill approach is NOT the same as a labor market demand approach because the shortages we have that will grow are in many occupations that are not high wage or require a college degree.

We are already into a period of tightening labor markets with low unemployment levels and the beginning of a surge in baby boomer retirements. In addition to providing for job growth, the nation will need to replace retiring public safety workers
, plumbers and truck drivers, pilots, nurses, teachers and millions of other occupations.

At the same time birth rates have plummeted and we have the challenge of preparing high school and college graduates for tomorrow’s workforce.

Lindsay Graham today in response to the President’s proposal noted that many low wage employers in his state were supportive of legal immigration policies to help fill their existing openings. Readers can judge for themselves as businesses owners and leaders weigh in on the President’s proposal.

While the country has divided opinions about unauthorized immigrants who are already here, we have a history of bipartisan support and appreciation for legal immigrants who contribute to our economy and society.

The argument that restricting legal immigration will help American workers is particularly off base. If industries have to downsize because they cannot find enough workers, that affects opportunities for everyone at those firms. Moreover, most workers who have been hit by transitions in the job market like the loss of manufacturing jobs and declines in coal mining are unlikely to be helped by restricting legal immigrants and particularly the low wage legal immigrants the President seems to be focused on.

And they are certainly not looking for protection so they can get low wage jobs. Of course if the President were worried about the fate of low wage workers, he could support a higher minimum wage or expanded earned income tax credit.

There are ways to help workers who may need help or young people at risk.
For people preparing for the next labor market, policies from free pre-school to high school programs partnering with companies to community colleges and workforce programs working hand in hand with employers could both help existing workers but, more important, contribute to breaking a cycle of poverty for some families.

Helping people get better skills is a positive approach. Let's do bipartisan reform of the legal immigration system.