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Rationalizing U.S. Immigration Policy: Reforms for Simplicity, Fairness, and Economic Growth – 2012


Local governments and community planners have to consider how immigration growth “can slow the aging of the population and have a positive net fiscal impact on entitlement programs like Social Security” (page 8). The challenges then lie in identifying which barriers exist between immigration policy and prospective employers. One major barrier is current U.S. immigration policy. Recognizing the need for policy reform, Giovanni Perri, Professor of Economics at the University of California Davis, puts forward an incremental system that ties immigration to the free-market. The paper is part of The Hamilton Project, designed to share ideas which foster economic growth, and published by The Brookings Institute.

Key Points

The paper offers a comprehensive system of reform that can also be implemented incrementally (pages 17-24 suggest exactly how, why and when specific increments should occur). Currently, there are 25 forms of visas, waiting periods for educated workers, restrictions on private companies hiring educated immigrants, and large numbers of illegal immigrants whose “problem also has its roots in the immigration laws” (page 11 and 12-13). Interestingly, economists note that immigration helps the U.S. in low and high-paying jobs, having little to no impact on wage decreases (page 10).

Other paper highlights include:

  1. Simplifying the existing system can be accomplished by 1) reducing existing visa categories to just three categories of employment-based visas; 2) eliminating the “country-specific quota of seven percent;” and 3) eliminating an “initial provisional period” for temporary immigrants to obtain permanent residencies (page 15). Family-based visas and labor-based visas should be “rebalanced” by emphasizing labor-based visas over the next several years (page 15-16). This effort should also reduce strain on undocumented immigration, thereby making it easier to penalize and enforce (page 16).
  2. The author advocates the use of auctions as a means of permit allocation to employers who hire immigrants. This would both generate revenue on the federal level, while tying tracking of immigration to job mobility. The free market would then determine which workers to hire in which industries (page 15, 27). Rather than a comprehensive reform, the author suggests incremental use of auctions for measuring effectiveness (page 15).
  3. Universities and colleges are full of smart foreign students who upon graduation would work in the U.S., but are hampered by current policies. Perri suggests that immigrants who obtain a university degree from accredited universities in the United States be granted a provisional working permit and the corresponding visa if they are hired by a U.S. employer. Foreign-born workers who obtain a Ph.D. at an accredited U.S. institution, and distinguished scientists or academics, should also be able to apply immediately for permanent residence” (page 16). This has the effect of keeping rather than exporting our national brain trust.

How to Use

Immigration brings with it a host of challenging issues for community planners and local governments, including demographic shifts, ethnic and linguistic shifts, and changes in services. Nevertheless, immigration can be great for the local economy. Fostering the type of immigration that shares uniquely American values of hard work, fairness, and contribution is paramount to community health. Though this paper examines ways the U.S. immigration system might be reformed, it also opens up new ways for local governments and community to dialogue with private businesses to work together in generating local employment.

View full report: Rationalizing U.S. Immigration Policy: Reforms for Simplicity, Fairness, and Economic Growth – 2012 (PDF – 393 KB)

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