Common Sense from Across the Northern Border?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on September 18, 2011

A recent study from Canada suggests a common-sense solution to at least part of the economic morass: When the country's in a recession or worse, stop importing more and more foreign workers.

As Canada's National Post has reported:

"These results reflect on two aspects of Canadian immigration policy," the authors say. "First, since skill-assessed, independent economic immigrants had substantially higher earnings levels throughout their first 10 post-landing years, Canada should continue to place heavy weight on skill-assessed immigrants.

"Recession appears to have had very marked and long-lasting scarring effects on the real earnings of immigrants," the authors say. "Perhaps thought should be given to ways to reduce total immigrant admission levels when severe recessions hit."

This study falls right in line with the findings of the National Research Council, Harvard labor economist George Borjas, CIS, and others. Immigrants with more to offer fare better in a developed nation's economy, but even that caliber of immigrant can end up as an anchor dragging upon the host nation. As the National Post said, "Regardless of which class the immigrant was admitted under, in troubled times, their earnings growth was lower."

America's economy continues to drag, with 22 million Americans unable to find a full-time job and the official unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent. Yet American politicians of both parties keep promoting the illogical: high and higher immigration levels.

But we already have some of the highest immigration levels in American history. Most of it involves admission of immigrants' relatives (including distant relations through the "chain migration" visa categories). Thus, we shoot ourselves in the foot by continuing mass immigration, especially when the labor market is already overflowing here and causing Americans to suffer, both as job competitors and as taxpayers forced to subsidize immigrants' household income through welfare, tax credits, etc.

Skilled, educated immigrants do better for the economy than those with less human capital. The Canadian study is only the latest to document this fact. The researchers found "skill-assessed economic immigrants exceeded the average median earnings levels for all immigrants by 30 to 37 percent for men and by 39 to 56 percent for women."

However, in the U.S. case, my CIS colleague David North has recently reported how legislation such as H.R. 2161, the IDEA Act, to increase admissions for skilled immigrants (without even an offset cutting unskilled immigration) is wrong-headed. H.R. 399, the STAPLE Act, suffers the same flaws and wrong premise.

His report shows the ready supply of skilled job candidates. The U.S. has 10 million Americans who have science, engineering, mathematics, or technology degrees and aren't working in those fields. We already have 1 million skilled nonimmigrant visa-holders in the country at any given time, with 200,000 freshly imported each year. North notes that the majority of foreign Ph.D.'s already end up staying in America.

Perhaps we should take heed of this Canadian research. Canada already favors skilled and educated immigrants through its point system. So, if in recessions reducing the inflow even of immigrants with higher human capital would benefit the national economy in Canada, such a course of action would surely have a salutary effect in the United States. Now, there's a jobs program that's shovel-ready.