Immigration is Good for Natives

Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia are joining the list of states with tough anti-immigration laws. On January 1, most of those laws are going into effect. Undocumented immigration may seem like a serious threat, but the so-called solutions are nothing more than intrusive economic regulations that destroy economic growth and hurt Americans.

Misconceptions about immigration explain these laws. First off, immigration is not a zero-sum game. There are not a finite number of jobs. Each job that an immigrant has is not one that a native would have had. A study by Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny conclusively shows that immigrants have an overall positive effect on native born Americans, and that increasing the levels of immigration will increase America’s economic growth.

Immigrants and natives barely even compete for the same types of jobs. Immigrants make up 17 percent the U.S. workforce (25 years and older) and are typically either low-skilled or very highly skilled. Orrenius and Zavodny note that immigrants make up 47 percent of workers in the United States with less than a high school degree and 27 percent of all doctorates.

Conversely, most of the native-born U.S. workforce lies somewhere in the middle of the education distribution: 57.2 percent of the workforce has a high school diploma and 20.5 percent has a bachelor’s degree. Immigrants and natives have different levels of education and skills; they rarely compete against each other but instead work together.

These differences in skill sets complement each other, and everyone is better off. For example, the lower wages demanded by immigrant housekeepers and child care professionals allow more native women to pursue a professional job. High-skilled scientists allow corporations to expand research and development operations, which needs accountants and middle managers to function properly, to the advantage of workers.

Thriving immigrant communities bring and are attracted to prosperity. Skilled immigrants are more entrepreneurial than the native population, and tend to attract more investment. Between 1995 and 2005 immigrants started a quarter of high-tech start-ups, and received patents at twice the rate of other high-skilled natives.

Opponents of immigration also claim that immigrants cost more in welfare programs than what they pay in taxes. Not true. The net present value of a highly skilled immigrant averages $105,000. Low-skilled immigrants tend to receive more benefits than they pay in taxes but their children and grandchildren make up for it by having higher wages and paying more taxes. Many immigrants also pay taxes for decades and then leave the country without drawing benefits, which is essentially a subsidy for our bankrupt welfare state.

Our immigration policy severely limits the number of immigrants who can come to the country legally. The complex system of different visas rules make it impossible for most potential immigrants to come legally. This causes many immigrants to break the law and come here.

Higher-skilled immigrants mostly choose to work, research, and create in other countries. Increasing legal immigration would channel immigrants into the legal market, increase economic growth, keep the United States in the front of the innovation curve, and alleviate some of the stress of welfare programs.