Immigration Reform in 2015: The Good and the Misunderstood

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It’s looking like a good year for immigration reform in the United States.  Only 18% of Americans still hold onto the belief that undocumented immigrants should be deported, according to Pew.  Republicans and Democrats both generally endorse immigration reform platforms including pathways to naturalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants.  There is even the possibility that spouses of H-1B visa holders who are in the US on H-4 visas will be able to work in the United States.

While public opinion regarding immigration has clearly shifted, there is still a big problem standing in the way of actual immigration reform.  In essence, enacting policy to not deport people living in the United States legally and even offer pathways to citizenship is simply making legal what is already happening.  A radical change would be increasing the annual H-1B visa cap.  This has not happened, and cannot happen until the US public lets go of some deeply misunderstood notions of what happens when non-citizens work in the United States.

The myth of job stealing is one of the most deeply engrained and misinformed beliefs held by Americans – many of whom support immigration reform.  H-1B visa holders work highly skilled jobs that are desirable to citizens and non-citizens alike.  People tend to rationalize job stealing by thinking of it as supply and demand.  When there are more workers competing for jobs, there are less jobs available, which means higher unemployment and lower wages.

While this may feel intuitively true, there is a huge gap in the logic.  People are NOT commodities.  Commodities don’t pay rent, buy food and clothing, go see shows and movies, eat at restaurants, buy cars, and get haircuts.  In actuality, every H-1B worker is someone spending money in the United States who otherwise would not be here.  This is extra wealth in our country that would not be here were it not for immigration.  This creates jobs, expands the economy, and puts more wealth in the system.

Economists have been largely agreed on this issue for a long time.  Immigration is good for the economy and US policy should encourage it.

While it may take a while for public opinion to catch up to what economists have been telling us all along, if the immigration reform forecast for 2015 is any indicator of what is to come, we can expect good things.

This article was written by Rebecca Little