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How America’s weak immigration means a weak economy

Magazine, Immigration

After years pushing a narrative that immigrants threaten the American economy, the Trump administration is reducing immigration to the U.S., and it’s not just illegal immigration––legal immigration is falling fast.

But as the U.S. grows more desperate for more people, native-born Americans are paying the price, too.

According to the most recent population estimates from the Census Bureau, yearly net international migration has declined to 595,348. That’s a drop of more than 43 percent from 2016, and the weakest rate of the decade.

Much of the country’s immigration focus revolves around the southern border, and the number of Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. each year has indeed declined since 2016. But immigration has been declining from plenty of other countries as well. After consistent increases in immigration from China between 2009 to 2016, Chinese immigration also has slowed. Indian immigrants follow a similar pattern.

The slowdown of legal immigration is no accident––it’s the product of compounding federal policy decisions. For example, since President Trump took office, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has increased the paperwork and number of interviews required for student visas and work authorizations. Because it hasn’t received more personnel to handle this workload, USCIS has an unprecedented backlog of unreviewed immigration applications. And denial rates for the most popular work visa have doubled.

The policy changes causing the slowdowns are too many to name––the Migration Policy Project assembled a 40-page report listing all of them. Suffice it to say, it’s clear the current administration is hostile to all immigrants, regardless of legal status.

In February 2018, the USCIS changed its mission statement to emphasize “protecting Americans.” But losing potential immigrants hurts native-born Americans because it hurts what impacts us all––our economy.

Economies grow through specialization and division of labor, something more likely to happen  when the number of people participating in the economy grows, too. More people simply means more people innovating and providing goods and services that benefit society. And historically, immigrants are the greatest innovators among us.

This principle of “the more, the merrier” may sound simple, but it has powerful implications. For example, a common argument against immigration suggests that more immigrants means more competition for jobs, leading to higher unemployment and lower wages. But this is an incredibly short-sighted perspective without much evidence. Immigrants are both creators and consumers, which means they increase both supply and demand for goods, services, and labor, lifting the economy. A growing economy creates more employment opportunities and pushes wages up. Study after study shows that the positive power of economic growth on native-born workers overpowers any negative pressures of labor competition.

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