Skilled immigration

We thought that President Trump had moved on from the immigration issue based on the battle over tariffs. He is busy with that now. But that doesn’t mean that Trump has no effect on immigration. Through a combination of executive actions and rhetoric, the president is deterring the kind of immigrants that the U.S. critically needs to keep its economy running.

Since he came into office, Trump has been making life harder for skilled foreigners working in the U.S. Trump temporarily suspended premium processing of H-1B visas. The only possible reason for this was to harass and discourage visa applicants. Trump’s administration has also made it harder to give visas to entry-level computer programmers. On top of this, they increased its scrutiny of companies that hire workers on H-1Bs. As a result, the pace of H-1B approvals slowed last year.

So far, these trends have not received attention. Skilled immigration isn’t the kind of issue that gets masses of activists marching in the streets. Democrats tend to focus on protection for undocumented immigrants. In the meantime, tech companies support more H-1Bs, but some workers oppose the program, believing that it steals jobs and/or reduces wages for native-born Americans.

This is a big problem, because skilled immigrants are a key part of the U.S. economy

As for driving down native-born Americans’ wages, there is evidence that the worry is vastly overblown. It’s true that the H-1B program tethers employees to their employers; for a worker on an H-1B to switch to a different company, the procedure can be time-consuming and annoying. There is some evidence that companies that win the chance to hire more H-1B workers pay lower wages. But there’s also evidence showing that H-1B workers are not paid less than native-born Americans, after accounting for their age and skill level.

Increases in foreign STEM workers are linked with wage improvements for college-educated natives. Gains for non-college-educated natives are smaller but still significant.

If Trump’s immigration policies break this virtuous cycle, the tech industry could eventually decide to make its home elsewhere – immigrant-friendly Canada, or even in emerging economies of China and India. That would result in many fewer good jobs, and lower wages, for American workers.

The U.S. is playing a very dangerous game under Trump. By degrading one of the nation’s core strengths Trump is putting the native-born populace at risk, not helping it. Instead of limiting the H-1B program, we should replace it with a system that gives green cards to skilled foreign workers.

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