Rational Middle Podcast Makes the Case for Employment-Based Visa Reform

A recent Rational Middle Podcast revealed how demographic imperatives in the US are increasing the economic need for immigration reforms. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Director of Domestic and Economic policy for the 2008 John McCain campaign, and President of the American Action Forum, discussed why reforms to the visa system are needed to help meet workforce demands and how these reforms could help break the 26 year-long stalemate on bipartisan immigration reform.

Holtz Eakin pointed out that the US has sub-replacement fertility, which means that growth in US population and workforce size is entirely dependent on immigration.

The native-born population doesn’t have enough babies to maintain the population size of the US, and in the absence of immigration the US shrinks in size, economic presence, and its abilities to protect its values around the globe. The entire future growth of the labor force and the skill composition of the labor force gets dictated by immigration decisions. That’s a huge opportunity. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity to put more economic criteria into the granting of visas. Right now about 5% are granted on economic grounds. It should be more like a quarter to a half of them focused on economic,” said Holtz-Eakin, calling for Congress to increase employment-based immigration.

As far as employment-based visa reforms go, Holtz-Eakin called for congress to adopt a two branch points-based system similar to those of Canada and Australia.

One branch would be based on a points-based system that would allot points for factors like English proficiency, education levels, and having family members in the US, with immigrants who obtain a certain number of merit-based points qualifying.

However, this system doesn’t account for really smart or hardworking people who never graduated college or have checkered academic careers but turn out to be great colleagues or very productive in the labor force. We need a way to identify value the old-fashioned way, which is success in the labor market,” added Holtz-Eakin.

To help meet the demand for a variety of skills in the US labor market, Holtz-Eakin called for a second branch that would allow immigrants to qualify for temporary status if they have an employer that will hire them, and ultimately to earn permanent legal status if they work for a certain period of time and acquire enough points.

Allow people to come in on a temporary visa if they can find an employer who is willing to hire them, they stay for three years, they get a renewal and stay for another three years, and if they can remain employed for six consecutive years and succeed, that’s good enough, that’s what we need. They may not have a PhD, but there’s a whole continuum of skills the labor market is going to need. We’re not smart enough in 2022 to know what they’ll be in 10 years, so let’s build a system that can let them emerge. If they do, give them points toward the point-based system for having their six years of work experience and let them earn enough points to stay,” said Holtz-Eakin.

Holtz-Eakin also said that while border security and creating a method for unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status are both areas that need to be addressed, they can both be lightning rod topics, and that less controversial visa reform could be the glue that brings everything together.

He also argued that while many Republicans and Democrats genuinely want to pass real immigration solutions, there are also lawmakers on both sides that seek to perpetuate immigration problems in order to use them for political gain, which has impeded real progress on the issue.

That’s what has to change. I think the American public is going to get tired of this clubbing over the head every election season, it doesn’t work forever. Additionally, there are things that Americans care about. They care about the increases in the standard of living, economic growth, and prosperity, and the funding of social security and medicare. All of those things are facing this demographic threat, and people are going to want a legislative accomplishment. If immigration reform can be a part of solving those problems then it changes the dynamic,” said Holtz-Eakin.

There’s a good reason to believe that over the next 10-15 years all of that stuff comes to a head and we have to make progress on immigration,” he added.

To learn more on these issues, listen to the Rational Middle Podcast Episode 113: “Capital, labor, and skills: America Competes with Douglas Holtz-Eakin” below. Also check out the free Rational Middle of Immigration Video Docuseries that examines more issues associated with the US immigration system.


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