Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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Outsourcing to Jonathan Rauch on immigration

Your humble blogger has been mute about the immigration bill that is either dead or not dead -- I can't rememberwhich iteration we are at right now.

In the interest of economy, and in improving the debate on this subject, I will simply outsource my position on this to the National Journal's Jonathan Rauch:

[T]he Senate bill was worse than it needed to be. On the legal side of the immigration equation, there are easy trade-ups to be had. In fact, even a National Journal columnist with no apparent qualifications could write a better bill.

And what might that look like? Glad you asked.

  • First, raise the number of legal immigrants by about 50 percent, to about 1.8 million a year. That meets the economy's demonstrated demand for workers.

  • Second, provide pathways to permanence. Bring in these 1.8 million people on temporary visas, say for three to five years, with the promise of permanent legal residency (a green card) if they stay out of trouble, pose no security risk, and work or get a college degree.

  • Third, don't micromanage who gets in. Allocate visas using a simple three-way formula that gives about equal weight to family, work, and education: 600,000 family visas for close relatives of citizens and green-card holders; 600,000 work visas for people who are sponsored by an employer and have less than a bachelor's degree; 600,000 education visas for people who hold a bachelor's degree or higher, with first call going to those who also have employer sponsorships or family ties.
  • There is no chance, at the moment, that this plan will be adopted. But there is some chance that making the case for it might help clarify what the country should be shopping for in an immigration reform measure.

    The most basic decision any immigration bill needs to make is this: How many immigrants does the country need and want? Bizarrely, this was the one question that the debate over the Senate bill did not seem to concern itself with. Even finding estimates for total immigration under the Senate reform proved dauntingly difficult until the Congressional Budget Office published some projections last week.

    Hat tip: Virginia Postrel.

    posted by Dan on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM


    As our immigration policy stands now, this is a radically right wing proposal. Jeff Sessions or Jim Demint would be ecstatic with this kind of policy.

    posted by: bjkad on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    I generally agree that we should substantially increase the number of immigrants we let in. However, I don't see why 600,000 slots should be reserved for those lacking a bachelors degree. 600,000 employer sponsored could be workable, but why limit their education level? Also, if these immigrants lose their sponsor they need a grace period to find a new job, otherwise they're too much like indentured servants.

    posted by: Greg Sanders on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    In the very old days (60s and 70s) migrants were allowed across the border for the agricultural season, follwoing various crops and then returning home for the winter (I planted andpicked tomatos, so I know how hard the work is).

    It was win-win, so I think we need to something similar now.

    On the bill itself, it appears to provide a de facto amesty for multiple years of income tax evasion - which should really thrill the American taxpayers.

    posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    "First, raise the number of legal immigrants by about 50 percent...That meets the economy's demonstrated demand for workers."

    Huh? A demonstrated demand for workers? It's not the "economy" that demands workers. A demand for labor leads to an increase in its price. Shortages are eliminated when wages for workers rise and more people are willing to take jobs in these sectors. Why, Jonathan and Daniel, are the wages of low-skilled workers static or falling if the US has a shortage of them?

    posted by: GSB on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    Can anyone recommend a good and objective book on the history of American immigration policy?

    posted by: Pete on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    That is an interesting question, but I'm at a loss on exactly how one would go about answering it. I don't think, actually, that there is something so simply definable as "immigrant demand," right? Are legal immigrants largely competing with illegal immigrants in the same labor markets? There is this tendency to lump all immigrants together that probably isn't that helpful. Mexican illegals participate in a very specific economic and cultural phenomenon that has it's own incentive structure. Their non-citizen, effectively criminal status may actually have perverse incentive effects, and certainly plays a role in the kind of jobs available to them. At any rate, I'm not convinced that manipulating the flow of legal immigrants is really likely to serve the labor needs of those businesses most likely to employ illegals to begin with. Even if the picture were less murky, it seems to me that the whole concept is far too reductionist-it assumes that immigrants are all basically a part of the same labor pool, and that you can use immigrant regs like a valve to expand or contract that labor pool's size, with predictable economic results. Is that really plausible? My useless gut says no.

    posted by: dull head on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    Immigration is always to be understood via the prism of labor economics. There is no such thing as a "solution" to the issue that does not provide for an adequate supply of labor. The U.S. specifically lacks unskilled labor as well as a narrow, specialized area of high-skilled labor. Put simply, if all jobs in the U.S. are filled then there is no point to "illegal" immigration. What's more, by filling jobs with "legal" immigrants, the U.S. saves a fortune in border control costs and can focus more expertly on problem border people - criminals, terrorists.

    "Shortages are eliminated when wages for workers rise and more people are willing to take jobs in these sectors."

    Yes and no. First, capital and technology are substituted for labor (McDonalds, for example, is surprisingly full of technology.) Second, my back of the envelope calculations say that for all unskilled or low-skilled jobs to be filled via higher wages, the minimum wage would near to be in excess of $24/hr. I have little doubt that many would be attracted by such a wage, mainly from mid-skilled positions. Of course, we would then need to import mid-skilled foreigners to fill those positions! (And a hamburger would cost $11.)

    posted by: Jamesaust on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    Where does Ms. (overrated) Postrel get the labor shortage argument?

    There is no shortage of labor, there is a shortage of cheap labor willing to work outside the normal tax and protective regulatory systems.

    posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    To be fair, there is a shortage of seasonal agricultural labor, which can be easily remedied by a seasonal program of Mexican migrants, who can be protected by US lanor standards.

    posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

    When "capital and technology are substituted for labor" then there is less demand for workers, period. Don't waste you're time worrying about an imaginary $11 burger when you can appreciate real Australian wines that are made better and cheaper through technological investment and without armies of farm labor.

    posted by: GSB on 06.19.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

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