Current Immigration Debate Needs the Concept of "Population-Neutral"

By David North on July 10, 2015

There is a useful concept in tax policy referred to as "revenue-neutral".

This term is often used in legislative packages that call for closing tax loopholes while lowering rates in another part of the tax system so that the rules are changed, but the size of the revenue stream is not. (Frankly, I am in favor of a non-revenue-neutral policy that would raise taxes on the rich — but that's another subject.)

One might think that there could be — and should be — a concept of population neutrality in immigration policy discussions, but we never hear of it in any of the administration's actions or proposals — all of which tend to expand the population of the United States.

Most people in the United States are unaware of the fact that we take on one million legal immigrants a year, year after year. They may notice that the roads and the subways and the bridges are usually crowded, and not getting any younger, but they do not link those images with the reality that immigration keeps adding to the already burgeoning population and providing still more challenges to our crumbling infrastructure.

All the arguments for more investors or more workers or more refugees seem to assume that adding to the population is not a factor to be considered. It should be.

These thoughts came to mind when an evolving effort by the administration to invite foreign entrepreneurs to the United States was given the teleconference treatment recently.

The Department of Homeland Security proposes to stretch the concept of immigration parole (a non-permanent permission to be in the United States) well beyond its original meaning. Traditionally, exceptions were made to the law in favor of aliens needing medical operations not available in the home country, for instance, or for those non-admissible aliens that the government wants as witnesses in court cases.

The administration now plans to extend parole to cover entrepreneurs who are ineligible for other immigration benefits (or unwilling to apply for them). This is how the White House has described the proposed program:

Under existing authority granted by Congress, DHS may allow an individual to work in the United States when doing so would yield a "significant public benefit." DHS will design a program to grant this temporary "parole status" to inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs who may not qualify for the green card pathway described above, but who promise significant public benefit. This program is also likely to include criteria related to creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue within the United States. As a discretionary program with case-by-case determinations, it will not be subject to statutory caps. Eligible individuals will be subject to income and resource threshold requirements and therefore will not be eligible for certain Federal public benefits.

The "green card pathway" referred to is for skilled alien workers in the second employment-based visa category (EB-2).

This is an interesting idea and might be acceptable were it to replace some other part of the immigration system — such as the diversity visas or the family preference for siblings, siblings-in-law, and nieces and nephews of citizens — but that is not what is offered.

These parole visas could be issued in unlimited numbers reflecting decisions made by USCIS regarding the utility of the alien entrepreneurs applying. (Given the skill set of USCIS, this is a little like asking a deaf person to review an opera performance.)

Setting aside the subjectivity of which aliens should be admitted as entrepreneurs, and forgetting for the moment how the somewhat similar EB-5 (immigrant investor) program has been dogged by scandals as reported here, this is just another proposal to expand the immigrant stream. There are no tradeoffs offered regarding the elimination of other, presumably less useful, aspects of the immigration program to make room for these entrepreneurs.

Frankly, my sense is that any entrepreneur worth his or her salt can either figure out a way to use existing immigration categories or can hire a lawyer who can do so. Given this thought, what we have in this proposal is an administration leaning over backward to create visas for what might be regarded (because of their lack of bureaucratic skills) as Grade B business people.

Another way of looking at this proposal is that the Obama administration regards entrepreneurs as being as hapless as refugees, so special rules need to be designed to ease their admission to this country.