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Reason Foundation

The Wall Street Journal

For Prosperity, Immigrants Need the Family

Letter to the Editor

Shikha Dalmia
July 21, 2007

Gordon H. Hanson's July 5 commentary, "Dodging the Guest-Worker Bullet," cheering the defeat of the immigration reform bill in the Senate was right on target, except for one thing: He praised the bill's efforts to get rid of the "strong bias toward family reunification" in the current system by creating a new point-system to measure the economic desirability of immigrants based on their skills.

But of all people, Mr. Hanson, who has previously argued for letting the market dictate both the number and type of immigrants admitted into the United States, should understand the dangers of such an approach. The point-system is the equivalent of an Industrial Policy for the immigrant labor market. It would make federal bureaucrats, instead of the needs of American businesses and families, the main drivers of U.S. immigration policy.

Currently, when it comes to employment-based immigration, American businesses determine which overseas workers they want to hire and then approach immigration bureaucrats for a work visa (H1-B) and, eventually, if they like the person, a green card. The point-system would have reversed this process. Under it, bureaucrats would have decided who ought to be admitted, and then employers would have had to pick from that pool. A similar program in Canada has resulted in a huge mismatch between the skills of immigrants admitted and the needs of industry.

As for Mr. Hanson's claim that "family reunification lacks economic justification," he should consider the findings of Professors Harriet Orcutt Duleep, and Mark. C. Regets: They found that the incomes of family-based immigrants grow far more rapidly than those of employment-based immigrants, so that any initial income-gap equalizes over time.

Why does this happen?

Family-based immigrants possess human-capital that bureaucrats can't detect. But this capital allows them to start small businesses by pooling their resources. Studies show that the immigrant-owned family businesses are a driving force behind the revitalization of inner cities in New York, Chicago, and Miami.

The point-system is another reason to cheer the death of the so-called immigration reform bill.


Shikha Dalmia is Senior Analyst


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