How Family-Based Immigration Can Boost the Economy

President Donald Trump, who has criticized family-based immigration programs, has proposed a merit-based one that would give points to candidates based on factors like education and English skills. Proponents of these merit-based programs argue that visas for skilled workers could bolster the economy — think wage increases and increased productivity.

But one paper, “The Law and Economics of Family Unification,” found no distinctions in earnings by type of immigrant visa (though the data that’s out there is limited). A large number of immigrants who come because of family sponsorship are very productive, says Alan Hyde, a Rutgers law professor and the author of the study.

He stopped by to talk to host David Brancaccio about some of his paper’s findings. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: We’re hearing a lot of this debate now about changing the rules of immigration in the U.S. The Trump administration wants to grant fewer family visas, ending, I think the president’s term is — a controversial term — “chain migration,” reorient the system at some level to focus on individuals, what skills an individual might or might not have who wants to move here. But what kind of data do we have in trying to figure out the effects of this kind of big change?

Alan Hyde: Well, we don’t have the data that everyone would like. Our government does not collect data on immigrants generally, economic data, and we don’t collect data on immigrants by type of visa they entered.

Brancaccio: That’s interesting. So if you’re just asking the basic question about what types of occupations if people moved here, might they become more productive — we’re not quite sure.

Hyde: That’s just right, David. You can’t tell by looking at an individual whether he or she came because a sibling sponsored them or an employer sponsored them. And you have to be careful about prejudices here. You also have to be careful about how people use the word skill when they talk about skilled immigration. Skills is not something that any system of immigration law can really observe at entry. The convention is to use the words “skills” to mean degrees. The more certifications and degrees you have, the more skilled you are as an immigrant in the literature. I think that’s a very deceptive way of thinking about the problem. We all know people who have lots of advanced degrees who really can’t do anything. And there are many people, immigrants among them, who may not have a lot of formal education, but they know how to do a lot of things that are very important in our economy.

By David Brancaccio for MARKET PLACE
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