Politics & Policy

Re: Immigrant Skills vs. Numbers

I appreciate Mark’s thoughts on my article from yesterday about the new RAISE Act.

I won’t go into a ton of detail about why I support high-skill immigration, because I did that earlier this year in a piece for The American Conservative. But in brief, high-skilled immigrants don’t pose very many of the problems that low-skilled immigrants do, and thus I see little reason to cut overall immigration levels rather than moving toward a skills-based system and keeping the numbers the same.

Immigrants’ lifetime fiscal impact — taxes paid minus services consumed, calculated as a “net present value” — is a great example. According to data from the National Academies of Science that Mark’s colleague Steven Camarota highlighted in February, immigrant high-school dropouts and probably high-school grads with no college are a net fiscal drain. An immigrant college grad, by contrast, is worth something like $183,000 to our government coffers.

Higher-skilled immigrants are easier to assimilate socially as well, and cause fewer problems. Immigrant college grads are more likely to speak English (very few don’t, in fact) and to value free speech. They also have fewer kids out of wedlock and commit fewer crimes. Indeed, on some of these measures they perform better than native-born Americans.

As I said in my piece yesterday, even with skilled immigrants there’s a limit to how many we can handle at once. That’s a reason, for example, I’d be skeptical of dramatically increasing overall immigration levels as the old Gang of Eight bill would have done. But reorienting the system around skills while keeping the overall numbers the same? That’s a huge victory and a result I can live with.

Finally, regarding the question of what’s politically feasible, Obama’s “deferred action” program for illegal immigrants who arrived as kids is a good bargaining chip, but I don’t see it getting us a 50 percent reduction in legal immigration every year going forward. No sane negotiator would trade what Mark calls “the work permits of 800,000 illegal-alien DREAMers” — who, let’s face it, will not be deported with or without the program — for about 500,000 green cards annually.

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