A broken immigration system

The second big problem is the U.S. government’s dysfunctional immigration policy.  America, as a nation and a society, is remarkably friendly towards immigrants once they are here; call yourself an American, live according to our laws, and try to integrate into American society, and where you were born becomes merely an interesting biographical fact, far less important than what skills you have or how friendly you are.

Despite this, the legal attitude towards immigrants is markedly less accepting – severely limited visas for foreign workers, decade-long waits for citizenship, arbitrarily low quotas for immigrants from particular countries, etc.  The problems with the system are profound and have been a big contributor to the estimated 11m illegal immigrants living in the US, whose presence causes a great deal of anger among American citizens and legal immigrants.  In addition to being a large source of frustration for many, this situation is causing a number of negative effects in other parts of the Interlock.

As just one example, even during the depths of the Great Recession, many businesses could not fill vacancies for certain skilled workers, and therefore could not expand their operations inside the US.  This was in spite of the fact that many students were graduating from our universities with the needed skills and a desire to stay here.  They couldn’t fill those vacancies in part because of our rigid immigration policies meant that foreign students, who received their degrees from American universities, weren’t able to obtain permission to work for American companies that needed their skills.

Each highly specialized skill position in business is typically associated with at least 5 to 10 less specialized employees.  Thus, the expansion of a division that requires 10 specialists would usually involve the creation of at least 50 to 100 new jobs for non-specialists, positions that could have been filled easily from the existing American workforce.  However, without the people with those specialized skills, those businesses could not expand, or could only expand by going overseas.  Those jobs – not just the specialized jobs, but all of the additional positions that they would have created – were lost to the economy because of our immigration system’s dysfunction, which has helped keep unemployment high during our “recovery.”


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