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Don’t Restrict Chain Migration

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Don’t Restrict Chain Migration

December 5, 2017

Congress has until Friday to vote to extend funding to the government through next September. Democrats want the budget proposal to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), but some Republicans will only include DACA reform in exchange for chain migration reform. If immigration reform is the price to pay for funding government, Congress needs to decide on a sensible immigration policy.

Democrats want the DACA program to be extended. They want to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought over as children from deportation and create a process by which recipients could apply for long-term and secured status.

Republicans want to restrict chain migration, which allows initiating immigrants, i.e. the first immigrant from a family to come to the U.S., to sponsor family members for immigration. The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), one of leading immigration bills in Congress, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia), reforms to chain migration.

Under the RAISE Act, initiating immigrants would no longer be able to sponsor siblings or adult children. In addition, the bill would replace green cards with a five-year renewable residency visa without work authorization for parents of initiating immigrants.

According to the White House, between 2005 and 2015, 9.3 million immigrants entered the United States based on family ties, nearly 70 percent of all immigrants allowed into the country during this time.  Opponents of chain migration want to eliminate the preferential treatment afforded to extended and adult family members. Instead, they want to issue green cards on the basis of migrants’ skills. The RAISE Act is estimated to reduce overall immigration by 41 percent in the first year and 50 percent after a decade.

The Trump administration is in favor of private sector initiatives in many spheres, so to find it supporting the concept that a government agency can do better than individuals at picking immigrants is surprising.  Consider the case of Athanasios, who has a construction firm, and who has a job for his brother and wants to bring him from Greece. Alternatively, a government bureaucrat decides whether Athanasios really has a need for another construction worker, and issues a visa to some random worker with the right credentials—who might never find Athanasios.

Chain migration is an information system that enables networks of people to find each other to come and work. If there is no work, individuals will not invite family members to come.

The major argument against chain migration is that some people receive benefits without working. This is a welfare problem that needs to be solved. The obvious solution is to make new immigrants ineligible for federal and state benefits. As a condition of entering the United States, they should be required to purchase health insurance prior to arrival, and to keep the policy while in the country.

Another argument against chain migration is that it leads to an overabundance of low-skill workers and not enough higher skilled workers, harming prospects for native-born Americans. However, many vacancies exist in low-skill occupations such as hospitality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey, the most recent job opening rate in the leisure and hospitality industry was 4.6 percent in September. The United States currently has 6 million unfilled vacancies.

Furthermore, the number of new immigrants entering through chain migration with a bachelor’s degree or higher is rising, and the number of new immigrants with less than a high school diploma is declining. From 2000 to 2010, 1.4 million new immigrants had less than a high school education, compared to 3.2 million with a bachelor’s degree or higher, a 43 percent share. Since 2010, 300,000 new immigrants had less than a high school education, but 2.1 million had a bachelor’s degree or higher, a 14 percent share.

It makes little sense to allow parents of initiating immigrants to enter the country without allowing them to work, as does the RAISE Act.  If parents want to work, and they find jobs, why not allow them to do so?  This would generate additional federal and state tax revenue. The view that the pool of jobs is a fixed pie, and that if someone takes a piece it leaves less for others, is commonly held by Europeans, but not by Americans.  That is why the French instituted a 35-hour work week.  It does not reflect the dynamic nature of the U.S. workforce, nor the role that immigrants have historically played in expanding America’s economy. 

Reducing chain migration is based on the assumption that additional immigrants harm the economy and that America would be better off without them. However, the United States needs more workers to achieve President Trump’s 4 percent economic growth target. Immigrants who want to come and work should be welcomed.

Emily Top is a research associate at Economics21.

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