Opinion: Immigration Policy Needs to Adapt to Economic Conditions

Although I think some of their reasoning isn't sound, the legislation being considered that would replace the program that hands out 55,000 green cards a year to immigrants through a lottery with a program that focuses on highly educated immigrants is the right legislation at the right time. The last thing our economy needs right now is any more randomly selected immigrants added to a labor force struggling to both fill jobs in some high skill areas, while struggling to create jobs in other low skill areas.

The flawed reasoning can be summed up at the end of this quote from CQ politics, as to how the legislation got the support of some conservatives:

"The legislation that Smith introduced Sept. 18 would abolish the diversity visa program — which awards 55,000 green cards a year to immigrants around the world via lottery —  and give the visas instead to foreign graduates of American universities with doctoral and master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known as the STEM fields.

Abolishing the diversity visas was necessary to win support from conservatives, for whom increasing the net number of new immigrants is anathema.”

There is nothing wrong with immigration in general. The problem is our inflexible immigration policy that doesn't adapt to the economic times our country is in.

It's ridiculous that we don't already have a program that stumbles all over itself to hand over green cards to highly successful and educated immigrants, especially those that are in high skill, high pay fields that are struggling to find enough people to fill positions, and those who have money and want to come to our country to start a business. A program like this would create an economic ripple effect that would benefit the entire economy. No matter the state of the economy, this should always be the case.

It should also be the case that when the economy is contracting, the spigot of green cards for low skilled workers should contract, or even completely close. Labor markets follow the law of supply and demand just like any other. When the economy is so bad that there are many times more workers than jobs, all that bringing more people into that labor pool does is put downward pressure on their already stagnant wages, and keep unemployment higher than it would already be.

Of course we should make it a priority to keep nuclear families together by giving spouses and children of immigrants who earn their citizenship special treatment as far as getting them into the country legally and putting them on a track toward citizenship. This is also the case with children who are being adopted by anyone who already has citizenship. However, a person should be judged by who they are, not by who their sibling, cousin, aunts, uncles or children are.

The core mission of immigration should always be to fill a gap in what our society is lacking. World class doctors, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs - there is no such thing as having too many of them. Bringing people like that, who create economic multipliers that would help our economy grow faster than it would otherwise, will help our economy grow to the point where we no longer have more jobs than people.

This is where a certain subset of conservatives go wrong. The idea should never be to rigidly limit or open the immigration doors. The idea is to have immigration be focused on bringing people into the country that are needed by our economy. Keeping doors rigidly open to people our economy does not need makes things worse and hinders economic recovery. At the same time, keeping doors rigidly closed when our economy is booming and we need labor all across the skill spectrum just slows growth.

Giving those 55,000 get green cards that are currently given away through a lottery to targeted high skilled immigrants makes a great deal of sense, especially right now. But once the economy recovers the lottery should be added back, or even expanded, depending on the needs of our economy. This sort of flexibility may be too nuanced for the ideologues in Washington, but it's just the sort of thing that the country needs to start pulling itself out of the recession faster, and for our economy in the long run.