The Spectacle Blog

Immigration and Free Lunch

By on 10.5.11 | 4:45PM

Nick Schulz argues today in Forbes that there is such a thing as free lunch: high-skilled immigration. "Kick open the nation's doors to high-skilled immigrants," he writes. "There isn't a bigger no-brainer move than this." He further argues that the "wide consensus" among those who have studied the issue suggests that high-skilled immigrants are net job creators.

There are two problems with this free lunch, however. The first is that family reunification is the primary basis of legal immigration into the United States, not skills. Each year, over 70 percent of legal immigrants are admitted mainly because they are related to someone already here. That immigration, plus the vast majority of our illegal immigration, is low-skilled. That's part of the reason there is also a "wide consensus" among labor economists that the net economic benefit of our current immigration is actually very small, to the extent that it exists at all.

Second, it is debatable to what extent programs like the H-1B and L-1 visas attract people who are truly high-skilled and job-makers rather than job-takers.  These are non-immigrant visas, of course, but it's not entirely clear they constitute a free lunch.

Nevertheless, as I noted in my review of Mitch Daniels' book, more high-skilled immigration may mean less of the kind of immigration we are already getting.

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