Skilled Immigration and the GOP Platform

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Former Utah Governor (and former GOP presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman writes in the Wall Street Journal,

“The party should champion a plank that will enhance economic growth by embracing immigrants.”

The issue, however, is not that the GOP platform does not already embrace legal immigration; it does.

What Huntsman is calling for, however, is not immigrant-friendly policies but rather an increase in skilled immigration but no reductions in other categories. He urges, “Work-based immigration programs like the H-1B visa, which is a temporary program for workers with special skill sets, have to be expanded. Foreign graduates of American universities simply have to be given the opportunity to pursue U.S. citizenship. Beyond that, we must move from passively opening our arms to immigrants to actively seeking them.”

This position is included in the GOP platform in the form of a call for a new guest worker program. The only way that such a platform plank could make any sense at a time when persistent unemployment continues at over eight percent would be if there was evidence that these foreign workers create more jobs than they take.

Huntsman and others in the big business wing of the GOP try to make exactly that argument. They note that new companies are started by immigrants are disproportionate to their share of the overall population. The obvious flaw in that argument is that starting a business does not mean that it will generate jobs. Many of the companies started by immigrants are one-person enterprises, i.e., contractors, or food wagons, or corner markets. Also missing from a rational analysis of the job-creating effect of immigrant-founded businesses is data on how many of them survive. A start-up restaurant, for example, statistically has a high probability of failing.

Finally, the data on immigrant enterprises that impress Mr. Huntsman give credit for all job creation of a company to the immigrant founder of the company even when multiple individuals worked together to found the company and only one of was an immigrant. Other studies have demonstrated that immigrants are no more entrepreneurial than Americans.

With regard to the high-tech (H-1B visa) workers cited by Mr. Huntsman, it makes sense to grant them immigrant visas if an employer has seriously tried and failed to find a qualified American for the job. The problem is that the system for determining whether there are qualified American applicants does not apply to the hiring of H-1B foreign workers. This means that the more H-1B visas that are issued each year result in more jobs that go to foreign workers rather than to unemployed or underemployed, similarly qualified American workers. That may make sense for employers, and to the big- business wing of the Republican Party, but it is not fair to American workers.

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Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).

2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Huntsman is a muzzy-headed fool. We have skilled workers. –But stingy employers use the excuse of the recession to avoid paying them and hiring outside the country instead. All the chickens will come home to roost however. If we impoverish our young people, our workers, who will buy the computers, the TV sets, the cars, the homes? U.S. business is cutting it’s legs out from under itself with every foreign hire, every outsource, every merciless wage cut.

  2. avatar

    If we had a booming economy and jobs that required special skill sets not available in the US, then this policy would make sense. Instead, we have a struggling economy with over 15 million unemployed. We should have stopped all work visas back in 2008 when the economy fell apart. They should not be resumed until the unemployment rate is under 5% nationally. Foreign students can be given green cards if we need them to stay for some reason, but not citizenship. Many of today’s immigrants never attempt to assimilate. We are expected to accept them and their customs, yet they do not accept ours. For example, many Indian men treat US women poorly. They are not like immigrants from years ago who came to the US for a better life and wanted to become a US citizen. Today’s immigrant is coming here to use the US for their personal benefit. They have no regard for our country. Has everyone in Washington lost their common sense?