Two Republican representatives, Blake Farenthold of Texas and Mimi Walters of California, have an op-ed out today in The Hill promoting a way to pay for federal highway funding: increase high-skilled immigration. The idea has legs because the Congressional Budget Office found in 2013 that the House Judiciary Committee’s bill to boost high skilled immigration—the SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131)—would reduce budget deficits by about $110 billion over 10 years.
Despite the potential boon in revenues, some people are still opposed to increasing temporary high-skilled visas (H-1Bs) or high-skilled immigration in general. They fear that foreign workers will take jobs from Americans and increase unemployment. But the reality, as I’ve illustrated in a recent study, is the opposite. Companies hire H-1B high-skilled temporary workers when they are expanding, not when making layoffs. Extensive lines of evidence back up this conclusion.
- The pace of H-1B requests—as measured by how quickly the cap on H-1B visas is filled—increases as American companies increase employment in the top H-1B field, computer and tech jobs, which account for 60% of H-1B requests. This correlation is very strong (90%) and shows conclusively that U.S. companies expand employment overall when they hire H-1Bs (BLS & DHS).
- Unemployment in computer and tech jobs falls as H-1Bs enter those fields. This chart shows the number of H-1B requests for computer and tech jobs compared to the unemployment rate in those fields (BLS & DHS).
- Unemployment in computer and tech jobs falls as foreign-born employment increases (BLS & BLS).
- Overall employment in top H-1B occupations—engineering and computer (70% of H-1Bs)—rises as foreign-born employment rises (BLS).
- Wages in top H-1B fields are rising, especially relative to all occupations.
- High-skilled foreign-born workers with a bachelor’s degree actually made more in 2013 than U.S. college graduates, meaning that they generally cannot undercut American wages (BLS).
- Foreign STEM graduates also generally make more than American STEM graduates, so not much undercutting could be happening there either (UC San Diego).
Foreign-born high-skilled workers’ positive contributions are enormous (see here), and they have little downside. There may be valid concerns about using immigration as the only way to pay for highways, but the idea that it would displace American workers is not one of them.