The Trump Administration and Legal Immigration

The target is not just on illegal immigrants.

Via the NYT Companies Say Trump Is Hurting Business by Limiting Legal Immigration.

The Trump administration is using the country’s vast and nearly opaque immigration bureaucracy to constrict the flow of foreign workers into the United States by throwing up new roadblocks to limit legal arrivals.

The government is denying more work visas, asking applicants to provide additional information and delaying approvals more frequently than just a year earlier. Hospitals, hotels, technology companies and other businesses say they are now struggling to fill jobs with the foreign workers they need.

With foreign hires missing, the employees who remain are being forced to pick up the slack. Seasonal industries like hotels and landscaping are having to turn down customers or provide fewer services. Corporate executives worry about the long-term impact of losing talented engineers and programmers to countries like Canada that are laying out the welcome mat for skilled foreigners.

At Northwell Health’s pathology lab on Long Island, a new doctor’s cubicle stands empty, her computer and microscope untouched. Other residents started on July 1, but she is stuck in India’s Punjab State, held up by unexplained delays in her visa.

Given that we are in a period of low unemployment, and also given the fact that elements of our social welfare system (e.g., Social Security and Medicare) rely on a pool of workers to fund them, there are no good economic reasons to make legal immigration (which is already hard enough) even harder.

Beyond funding social programs, in general there is a need to maintain modest population growth, something that the US has done, while other industrialized countries have not, due to immigration.  From an NYT piece from May:

The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year, federal officials reported Thursday, extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession.

The fertility rate fell to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It was the largest single-year decline since 2010, when families were still feeling the effects of a weak economy.

Fertility rates are essential measures of a society’s demographic balance. If they are too high, that can strain resources like housing and education. If they are too low, a country can face challenges replacing its work force and supporting its older adults, like in Russia and Japan. In the United States, declines in rates have not led to drops in the population, in part because they have been largely offset by immigration.

According to the World Bank, the fertility rate in the US for 2016 was 1.8 children per female.  That is below the replacement rate, meaning our population is shrinking without immigrants (see, e.g., Japan with its fertility rate of 1.4 and low immigration rates and the problems that creates).

Back to the originally linked piece:

Experts say a sustained reduction in immigration could dampen growth over time as more baby boomers retire, leaving big gaps in the job market.

That goes for high-skilled immigrants and low-skilled workers, said Francine D. Blau, an economist at Cornell. The latter will be vital in fields like elder care and child care, as well as construction and cleaning.

“A lot of our labor-force growth comes from immigrants and their children,” Ms. Blau said. “Without them, we’d suffer the problems associated with countries with an aging population, like Japan.”

The only argument of much salience that I can think of about curtailing immigration is that a smaller pool of laborers should put pressure on wages, especially at the lower end.  However,

The effect of lower-skilled immigrants is more debatable. George J. Borjas, a Harvard economist, has found that an influx of such workers reduced the incomes of people without a high school degree between 3 and 5 percent.

Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis, agrees that individual workers can be hurt by competition from lower-paid foreigners. But he said the overall effect on wages was modest. Immigration also tends to bolster the incomes of college-educated Americans.

Mr. Peri points to what happened when the government deported between 400,000 and 500,000 Mexicans between 1929 and 1934, most of whom worked in agriculture and construction. With fewer people to work the fields, farm owners and agricultural businesses cut administrative, sales and clerical jobs because there was not enough to do.

“Out of eight or 10 positions held by Mexicans, maybe one or two were taken by Americans,” Mr. Peri said. “The rest disappeared.”

While any downward pressure is acutely felt by person working at the lower end of the spectrum, the broader negative effects of curtailing immigration are not worth 5% wage increases.

I know that I have seen the effects of mores stringent visa policies in my own work.  It has lengthened the time to get visas (and renewals/other paperwork) for employees/potential employees and it has, along with the general anti-foreigner sentiment in Washington, curtailed the number of international students we have had at my university in the last two years (and keep in mind that over 10% of our on-campus population has been international students in recent years, so the downturn in international students has been felt on campus).

The main reason for these restrictions is clearly nativism and it is not healthy for our country. It continues to be shocking and depressing that a country built on immigration, and which has clearly and repeatedly benefited from immigration, is allowing itself to be guided by people like Stephen Miller and his ilk and their limited views of American “greatness.”

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I await the attempted deportation of my 35+ yr legal resident, 10 year citizen, Spanish born wife, because…. something or other.

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Clearly, you don’t see the importance of immigration to “Making America White Great Again.” And Ozark isn’t much better.

  3. Kit says:

    While any downward pressure is acutely felt by person working at the lower end of the spectrum, the broader negative effects of curtailing immigration are not worth 5% wage increases.

    Well, glad to hear that you found it in you to bear the acute pain and misfortune of others.

    2
    1
  4. steve says:

    One of my better young docs works for us at a difficult to staff hospital. Was lucky to find here. Have had her for two years and is universally recognized as an excellent clinician. We are being forced to redo all of her H1B stuff, including advertising her job. I worked like hell to fill that position, interviewing 5 or 6 totally awful people before I found her. Now I have to do it over again. I might even be forced to fire her and hire some crud. I am pretty pissed. That, plus the new regulations doing out of the Trump CMS that are putting patients at risk is driving me nuts.

    Steve

  5. Kathy says:

    The main reason for these restrictions is clearly nativism and it is not healthy for our country.

    You’re being too kind. Coupled with denaturalization proceedings, and the note just yesterday about citizens being denied passports, it’s ethnic cleansing by white supremacists.

    13
    1
  6. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    No kidding. There’s a spokesperson for the alt-reich (he posts under the name of one of the Founders; I forget which) who maintains that U.S. citizenship should be limited to those who can prove they’re of pure English or pure German ancestry.

    I’m 72% acceptable, but the other 28% is Irish.

    10
  7. Gustopher says:

    Stories like this fill me with hope — the stories are pushed by the big business interests that have traditionally funded Republicans up and down the board, and they are a shot across the bow of the Republican Party that they are going too far. It’s what will reign in this administration.

    Please do not destroy my hope by feeding me facts.

    (I should probably just never return to this thread)

  8. Gustopher says:

    Other things things that give me hope includes pictures of animals in casts.

    Sure, something bad has happened to that hedgehog, but someone loves that hedgehog enough that they are making sure he gets the best medical care and a tiny little cast on his leg.

  9. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    No kidding. There’s a spokesperson for the alt-reich (he posts under the name of one of the Founders; I forget which) who maintains that U.S. citizenship should be limited to those who can prove they’re of pure English or pure German ancestry.

    I think that’s a great idea. You’d wind up with like, five citizens or so. Five people are more than enough to run a whole country, right?

    Seriously, those people wind up quite surprised when they run genetic ancestry tests on themselves

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Nonsense. They’ll just claim the test is flawed and change the numbers to match what they want.

  11. @Kit:

    While any downward pressure is acutely felt by person working at the lower end of the spectrum, the broader negative effects of curtailing immigration are not worth 5% wage increases.

    Well, glad to hear that you found it in you to bear the acute pain and misfortune of others.

    A huge part of life is about cost/benefit. The cost of downward pressure on low end wages is not enough to offset the benefit of more robust immigration.

    As I acknowledged, it is a real issue, but if you are going to take me to task over it, please explain why it is worth no immigration.

  12. @Steven L. Taylor: And, btw, given wage growth in this country has been so poor for so long, I am not convinced that even without immigrant labor that wages would rise.

  13. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    There’s a spokesperson for the alt-reich (he posts under the name of one of the Founders; I forget which) who maintains that U.S. citizenship should be limited to those who can prove they’re of pure English or pure German ancestry.

    That would exclude Trump, whose mother was an immigrant from Scotland.

  14. Grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: hope the idiot likes trying to find a competitive population of researchers in science and tech, then. Especially because there’s no reason for any German to show up. The Brits? Well, after Brexit you may find a lot of them fleeing, but the ones who are in S&T are more likely to go somewhere other with more research money and less xenophobia.

  15. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Out of 330 million plus people, there may be about 1357 who qualify.

    @Kylopod: @Grumpy realist:

    Well, clearly Melania should be stripped of her citizenship and deported forthwith.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Don’t give Trump any ideas. He might be tired of her and ready to move on to Hope Hicks anyway.
    ETA: Remember his encouraging words to her when she was grieving over Lewandowski dumping her and going back to his wife.

  17. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    if you are going to take me to task over it, please explain why it is worth no immigration.

    Let’s be clear that I’m limiting myself to talking about immigration as it affects the nation’s economic self-interest. In particular, I’m interested in the immigration of low-skilled labor today.

    I’ll sketch out my argument and allow you to hone in on the details you wish to contest.

    The share of country’s wealth going to the lower classes has been stagnant for decades. Structural changes were put in place around the time of Reagan that need to be changed.

    Any short-term wage growth has been very modest at best. Trump’s recent moves on taxes helped juiced company profits, which have been at record highs: companies can afford higher wages. And if they cannot, well then that’s capitalism at work. In the press, I constantly read about companies complaining that they cannot find workers, but I never hear about how wages for any particular low-skill industry are going through the roof. Let wages for the low-skilled rise at 5%/year for a decade. The overall economy would take a bit of a hit, but the nation’s self-interest would be served immensely.

    This was the one area where I think Trump struck a nerve. He’s done nothing to help the working class, and in fact he’s done the opposite. Still, the working class have, in my opinion, an honest grievance. Politically speaking, immigration will simply harden the resolve of those on the Right, so I would curtail it. I hope that I need not add that I would not approach the issue in the manner of the current administration. I’d certainly allow the immigration of doctors and lawyer on economic grounds. I would also look kindly on students would have completed their higher studies over here. I would allow others in on non-economic grounds, but that is a separate issue.

    This is how, in a nutshell, I see the situation today, but I expect every administration to revisit the issue, and each decade or two to have a different take on the matter.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I married the enemy.

  19. @Kit: I appreciate the response. However, I am not sure I understand exactly what you are suggesting (or how it would work). (I definitely don’t understand the need for your original comment).

  20. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not sure I understand exactly what you are suggesting (or how it would work)

    I am suggesting that the country need not allow immigration to help the hotel industry find dirt-cheap labor, for example. Capitalism will work its magic: weak companies will go under, better managed ones will thrive, and more money will flow towards scare resources (in this case working people).

    I definitely don’t understand the need for your original comment

    Well, that was a bit snarky. Still, I thought you showed a lack of empathy in saying that those people struggling to make ends meet should forego a 5% pay rise and instead take one for Team USA.

    The cost of downward pressure on low end wages is not enough to offset the benefit of more robust immigration

    I think one could make the case that the downward pressure on low-end wages is what finally bubbled over in the last election. To blame this all (or primarily) on immigration would be wrongheaded. Still, a significant portion of the country believe this, and they are acting on those perceptions. And those perceptions are not entirely at odds with reality.

  21. @Kit: It is not about “taking one for the team” it is about the broader implications of policy.

    And whatever one may say about political perceptions and immigration, I honestly do not think that GOP voters are concerned about the lowest range of the economy. Keep in mind that the group we are talking about here are “people without a high school degree.” This is less than 10% of the workforce.

  22. KM says:

    @Kit:
    You don’t seem to understand a fundamental part of economics like the Trumpkins do: people aren’t going to pay more then they have to for labor or anything else, especially when they can get better results cheaper from foreigners then Americans. In economics, the origin of the laborer means squat, as only the output and costs matter. It’s cold but it’s true, people with the same skill-sets and abilities are interchangeable in the greater whole – that’s why one office worker can be fired and replaced quickly in the workflow regardless of their personal details. That whole “hire the best!” mantra? Turns out being American doesn’t automatically make you the best choice.

    To be frank, you are not entitled to a job in America just because you were born American. A lot of these people who bitch about low-skilled labor taking their jobs ARE low-skilled labor and have nothing to recommended over their counterparts other then their nationality. As a matter of fact, some industries prefer immigrants because they show initiative and gumption the average American worker lacks ie they got up and moved to change their circumstances rather then bitching and waiting for jobs to come to them. Trump struck a nerve alright because he’s vocalizing their understandable fear they are replaceable….. and they are. Who are you going to hire – the high-school dropout with the meth problem that drinks their gov check away by the train tracks or the immigrant kid who traveled hundreds of miles in a desert for a chance to make something of themselves and learned English in just a few weeks? One’s going to demand $15 just because they exist and want to be done by 5 and one will take $10 because it’s a fortune compared to what they had and will put in more hours rather then kick up a fuss. It’s a complete no-brainer to any employer who’s the better candidate if you’re leaving your politics out of it; most business owner want money, not patriotism in the bank at the end of the day.

    Stopping low-skill immigration isn’t going to change the fact that working class Americans can’t find jobs because they can’t or won’t meet the conditions for employment. In fact, it’s going to make it WORSE because importing high-skilled immigrants pushes out Americans (formerly further up the food chain) who will then take the lower-skilled jobs from the working class because if they can get a kid with a Masters degree for 30K instead of a high school dropout, why the hell not? Either way, they lose. The economy has never been kind to them and as more and more of the money shifts to jobs that require high skill-sets and robots take more manual labor jobs out of the equation, they’re going to be left behind if they have nothing to offer but “I was born here”.

    6
    1
  23. KM says:

    @KM:
    To clarify my stance, here’s an example of why keeping out low-skilled immigrants isn’t necessarily going to do anything. I help out in a mentoring program for at-risk youth. This one kid is a couple of fries short of a Happy Meal, to say the least. Doesn’t want to learn, refuses to open a book and has repeated several grades at least once. Frequently truant and the cops know his face from frequent encounters. He’s pushing 16 and not in 6th grade yet – he’s only still in school because his father would cut him off from what little they have if he bailed. He’s already drinking and I’d bet my next paycheck doing something a little harder based off recent behaviors. He has no skills, no hobbies, absolutely nothing that you can spin to make him somebody you’d hire.

    He’s CONVINCED he was going to get a good job at the local power plant, though. When questioned as to why he thinks this, all he’ll say is “Somebody will give me a chance.” When pressed as to why someone would take that risk instead of a more reliable worker, he’ll get angry and say something like “They HAVE to. I’m from here. Somebody will hire me.” This kid’s got it in his head that a job will magically appear for him solely because of his birth status. He doesn’t have to learn or try – he doesn’t have to pick up skills or be marketable. He’s a white American and that’s that.

    This is what the local employers have to choose from when hiring because this kid’s certainly not alone is his beliefs and actions. He comes from a whole community down on it’s luck but refusing to change with the times and incredibly bitter life’s not getting better. Is it any wonder employers will take immigrants instead? Keeping out immigrants won’t make these kids better workers. Keeping out will mean those jobs stay empty or the few talented kids who couldn’t escape will be underemployed instead. For ages, all some people had to do to make a living was show up and be strong enough to lift something. Those days are rapidly waning and if attitudes don’t start changing, they’re never going to be able to catch up.

  24. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is not about “taking one for the team” it is about the broader implications of policy.

    Yes, but you gave me the impression that the broader implications came down to GNP growth. While that’s always worth keeping in mind, I feel that other considerations take priority.

    And whatever one may say about political perceptions and immigration, I honestly do not think that GOP voters are concerned about the lowest range of the economy. Keep in mind that the group we are talking about here are “people without a high school degree.” This is less than 10% of the workforce.

    10% of the workforce, but what percentage of Trump’s base? Also, other Trump voters, higher up the chain but also feeling insecure, are likely to sympathize with the lowest group, at least to the extent that they are painted as decent white Americans.

  25. @Kit:

    10% of the workforce, but what percentage of Trump’s base?

    Probably a small slice–especially of voters who actually vote.

    Also, other Trump voters, higher up the chain but also feeling insecure, are likely to sympathize with the lowest group, at least to the extent that they are painted as decent white Americans.

    So, we should engage in bad economic policy that will not actually address the real problems of the economy because some segment of Trump voters think that immigrants are the problem?

  26. Kit says:

    @KM: Food for thought! I’ve only got two minutes to reply, so I’m afraid that I cannot put in the same effort as you. here goes…

    The fact that a significant portion of the country cannot find gainful employment is a huge problem that does not go away, but only grows worse. And the worse it grows, the fewer opportunities are open to these people. Our people! (by which I mean Americans). We have failed to address the issue, and now the entire system is wobbling. In the end, who cares if a few more widgets were produced better and cheaper if the country collapses due to greed and callous indifference? (Which I’m not accusing you of, by the way.)

  27. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Probably a small slice–especially of voters who actually vote.

    I suspect you are right.

    So, we should engage in bad economic policy that will not actually address the real problems of the economy because some segment of Trump voters think that immigrants are the problem?

    Any economic policy that cannot deal with actual conditions on the ground is just ideology. Once, immigrants came take a place at the bottom of the economic ladder, allowing those already on it to move up. But the country was growing quickly. Today’s economy is different. And broken. A proper economic policy would help the country as a whole, not simply help drive down prices. A significant portion of the working class has been hollowed out by globalization and replaced with distain and rage. Steel workers are pitted against the rest of the world, while doctors make small fortunes and health care continues to explode in cost. Proper policy is not just more of the same. We can try to fix the system, or watch the dispossessed tear it down.

  28. KM says:

    In the end, who cares if a few more widgets were produced better and cheaper if the country collapses due to greed and callous indifference?

    Business owners clearly do or outsourcing would never have been a thing. You must understand, the rich have no nation – they can and will leave if things get bad and be welcomed nearly anywhere (or at least, their money will). Yes, they like America but they can learn to love Switzerland or the Bahamas or New Zealand if they have to. They’ve proven for decades they favor their wallet more then national stability or the lower classes so don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    A significant portion of the working class has been hollowed out by globalization and replaced with distain and rage. Steel workers are pitted against the rest of the world, while doctors make small fortunes and health care continues to explode in cost.

    Yes, because they are replaceable. See, I don’t need a steel worker nearby to get me my product. It can come from two miles away or two thousand – if the product is the same, then why does location matter? Add in that being a steel worker doesn’t require an advance degree or limited skill set and it’s a job that’s open to pretty much anyone that wants to take a crack at it and is willing to learn specifics. Doctors on the other hand kinda need to be nearby to diagnose things (although this is changing too) and thus can charge more for their rarer services. You need someone smart and trained correctly to make sure they can keep you alive so people are more willing to shuck out the dough. Back in the day, peasants couldn’t really afford real doctors and had to use barbers, hedge witches, and others with some healing skills to get by. Doctors have ALWAYS made more then laborers going back to ancient times so I’m not sure why you think it’s “broken” that they make more and charge more currently.

    You are right that the system is changing and we need to change with it. Frankly, the whole idea of work is going to be up-ended in the next few decades. Even people like doctors and software developers have an expiration date as technology encroaches on all fields. That we must work to eat or have worth in society when society has no place for said person to do work is a huge upcoming problem. However, blaming immigration isn’t going to change it nor is pretending this is a class thing. White collar jobs are disappearing, same as blue – the only difference is the white collar workers are adapting and finding new careers while blue collar workers are expecting the lost jobs to come back the same way they were.

  29. Kit says:

    @KM:

    You must understand, the rich have no nation – they can and will leave if things get bad and be welcomed nearly anywhere (or at least, their money will).

    Whenever I hear that the rich wish to leave for Galt’s Gulch, I say: there’s the door. The country would be stronger for it almost immediately.

    Doctors have ALWAYS made more then laborers going back to ancient times so I’m not sure why you think it’s “broken” that they make more and charge more currently.

    Doctors could be imported almost as easily as any other professions. The reason they are not is because we make it difficult. Other countries to it all the time.

    White collar jobs are disappearing, same as blue – the only difference is the white collar workers are adapting and finding new careers while blue collar workers are expecting the lost jobs to come back the same way they were.

    There is a can’t-do attitude in the country these days. We as a nation should be addressing these issues instead of just throwing up our hands and saying every man for himself. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do feel that I can see some of the problems.