Economists say it could hurt economy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, wants to let fewer poorly-educated immigrants into the U.S. to compete for jobs with Americans.
“If you keep bringing uneducated, unskilled workers in, who do they compete with?” Perdue said on a conservative radio show recently. “The low-end, low-skilled worker.”
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford also wants to tighten up on immigration. He’d let illegal immigrants brought to the country as children become citizens.
But, he said, they should have to follow stricter rules to stay in the country — like having jobs if they’re not in school.
As Congress tries to tackle immigration, many Republicans are pushing to tie the fate of those who came to the U.S. illegally as children with stricter restrictions to base immigrations more on merit than family ties or sentiment.
Perdue, for instance, says any deal on former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should reduce overall immigration by half and make it more likely that immigrants are educated and speak English.
But critics, including a number of economists, say Perdue’s proposal could damage the economy and cost jobs.
And Democrats and some advocates say Lankford’s proposal with North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is too harsh.
President Donald Trump has said he is willing to negotiate with Congress to find a solution for DACA recipients before the program ends in May. But he wants tougher immigration measures as part of a deal, and a White House spokeswoman said the list could include cutting overall immigration as Perdue wants.
Perdue and Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s proposal takes aim at concerns the influx of low-skilled workers takes away jobs from less-educated Americans, and lowers their wages.
“The immigration system is issuing a record number of visas to low-wage immigrants” Trump said in endorsing the bill in August. “It has not been fair to our people, our citizens, to our workers.”
About 800,000 people immigrated to the U.S legally last year, in a number of ways including being sponsored by relatives and employers.
Only about 45 percent of them have at least a college degree and many of those who do not “are typically very unskilled,” Kent Smetters, an economics and public policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said on a recent podcast about the proposal.
Perdue and Cotton would create a point system for those sponsored by companies to give preference to factors like being highly-educated immigrants, having high-paying jobs lined up in the U.S., and speaking English.
Smetters estimates 75 percent of immigrants would be college-educated. The program is separate from temporary work visas that allow farm workers to come work.
While allowing the same amount of employment-based immigration, Perdue and Cotton are proposing to reduce overall immigration by half — most notably, by no longer allowing extended relatives to immigrate.
Some economists like Harvard University’s George Borjas backs requiring more high-skilled immigrants. But many economists say that immigration benefits the economy, and reducing it, as Perdue and Cotton propose, would hurt it.
That’s because the more immigrants there are means more people buy goods and services, which allows companies to hire more people, including less-educated Americans. The companies also buy more equipment, which in turn creates more jobs, said Rutgers university economics professor Jennifer Hunt.
Hunt was part of a team assembled by the National Academies of Sciences which concluded last year that immigration benefits
Smetters said reducing immigration by a half would cost the nation 4.6 million jobs.
Lankford in the same vein disputes that allowing DACA recipients to stay in the U.S. would take away jobs from those born in the U.S.
He cited a study by the libertarian Niskanen Center, estimating his bill would create 117,000 jobs and generate an additional $22 billion for the federal government over the next decade because it would allow the young illegal immigrants to participate in the economy.
DACA recipients are also higher educated and would not compete for lower-skill jobs, said Jeremy Neufeld, a Niskanen immigration expert.
Lankford, though, is billing his plan as a conservative approach to giving DACA recipients a way to stay in the U.S, by tightening requirements.
As is now the case. DACA recipients would be required to go to school, earn a high school degree or the equivalent, or be in the military, and not commit serious crimes.
Lankford’s bill would create an additional requirement that those who have already graduated high school have a gainful job.
Lankford’s bill would also add new requirements to pay taxes and agree to give up their rights to stay in the country if they violate any of the conditions.
But DACA advocates like Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said some DACA recipients could lose their immigration status if they are laid off for a long period of time or become disabled.
Immigration hardliners like the Federation for American Immigration Reform are also opposing the bill because it would allow DACA recipients, once they become citizens, to sponsor relatives to immigrate.