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Proposed Program Would Boost Skilled Immigration, Economic Growth

By Cornell University

July 28, 2020

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Cornell Law School scholars are proposing a pilot immigration program that would target highly skilled foreign workers using a points-based selection system modeled after successful programs in Canada and Australia. The program is an incremental change with bipartisan support that they say could not only improve a broken system but spark the United States' economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The last time Congress revamped our legal immigration system was in 1990. Since then the world has changed but our immigration system has not," says Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law practice. "We think adding a points program would be one way to start overhauling our broken U.S. immigration system." 

Yale-Loehr is the co-author with Mackenzie Eason of  "Recruiting for the Future: A Realistic Road to a Points-Tested Visa Program in the United States," a report describing the program.

Yale-Loehr and Eason propose introducing standalone legislation to establish a ten-year pilot program. Each year it would award 50,000 permanent residence visas, or green cards, to highly skilled immigrants — a 4% increase in the total number of green cards currently issued. 

A grading rubric building upon best practices in Canada and Australia — two of the most highly sought destinations for skilled foreign workers — would determine whether an applicant qualified. The rubric would award points for high levels of education; age; fluency in English or a native language; work experience; family support; and demographic considerations that would support more diverse cohorts. 

The pilot program would not impact existing U.S. immigration programs that offer green cards based on family ties, employment, or humanitarian considerations. The pilot program aims to support the nation's long-term economic strength. Examples of potential beneficiaries might include international entrepreneurs, health workers, and highly skilled immigrants, the co-authors say.

The proposed pilot program would collect detailed longitudinal data to measure its effectiveness. If it proves as efficient, transparent, and low-cost as Yale-Loehr and Eason expect, after ten years it could be made a permanent part of the U.S. immigration system. 

Though Trump's policies have frequently been hostile toward immigrants, the co-authors say there's a compelling economic case for encouraging immigration generally and skilled immigration in particular. 

Immigrants already add over $2 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product every year, they say. They make up less than 15% of the U.S. population but account for more than 25% of the nation's venture capitalists, more than 30% of its startup founders, and more than 50% of its patent holders. 

"That's just regular immigration," Yale-Loehr says. "But the economic and fiscal benefits of skilled immigration are even more striking." 

Scaling Effect

The scholars pointed to research showing that for every additional skilled foreign worker hired by a U.S. firm, five to seven domestic jobs are created in that same industry. Another study found that for every 1% increase in the number of foreign workers in science, technology, engineering or math fields, the wages of U.S. workers in that field rose 7-8%. 

"This is a quick way to use immigration policy to help the U.S. economy recover," Eason says. 

Yale-Loehr and Eason say their proposal is achievable because of its modest scope, low cost, and incremental legislative approach.  

"We think we've really built something that could easily be supported on both sides of the aisle," Eason says.


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