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Harnessing the Advantages of Immigration for a 21st-Century Economy: MPI Proposes a Mechanism to Better Align Employment-Based Immigration with Labor Market, Economic Competitiveness Needs

Press Release
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Harnessing the Advantages of Immigration for a 21st-Century Economy: MPI Proposes a Mechanism to Better Align Employment-Based Immigration with Labor Market, Economic Competitiveness Needs

WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today released a policy paper that outlines a new way to make the U.S. immigration system more nimble and responsive to changing U.S. labor market and economic circumstances while also protecting American workers' wages and working conditions.

The policy paper, Harnessing the Advantages of Immigration for a 21st-Century Economy: A Standing Commission on Labor Markets, Economic Competitiveness, and Immigration, proposes creation of a permanent, independent executive-branch agency that would make regular recommendations to the president and Congress for adjusting employment-based immigration levels.

The Standing Commission concept, first articulated by the MPI-convened Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future in its 2006 final report, would provide timely, evidence-based and impartial analysis that is vital for informed policymaking. The bipartisan Standing Commission would be staffed by a professional corps of career economists, demographers and other social scientists.

The Standing Commission's findings and recommendations would reflect regular reviews of labor market immigration circumstances and needs as the basis for making adjustments to employment-based immigration levels and visa allocations. In this way, the Standing Commission would make it possible to inject much-needed flexibility into a system that is currently rigid and unresponsive to changing economic conditions because it has been adjusted only every few decades.

"If U.S. firms and the broader U.S. economy are to thrive in a completely unforgiving 21st-century globalized economy, labor market immigration must be viewed as a strategic resource that — if carefully managed — can meet labor market needs while protecting U.S. wages and working conditions, and support economic growth and competitiveness," said MPI President Demetrios G. Papademetriou, who co-authored the paper with MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner and two other MPI colleagues.

Meissner, who heads MPI's U.S. Immigration Policy Program, testified in support of the Standing Commission proposal during a recent hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee.

"Establishing a Standing Commission should be treated as a key element of comprehensive immigration reform and the best way for determining future employment-based flows," Meissner said. "The current economic crisis brings into stark relief the inflexibility of the U.S. immigration system in comparison with the highly dynamic and constantly evolving global economy. Now, more than ever, the United States needs an immigration system that better serves U.S. economic and social interests by being sensitive to economic fluctuations, both up and down."

The Standing Commission would, among other duties:

  • Create and implement a policy-focused research agenda on the labor market roles, integration progress, and economic impacts of immigration, both at the national level and at the state, regional, industrial sector and occupational levels.
  • Provide annual recommendations for adjustments to employment-based immigration levels that would take effect unless, within a specified timeframe, Congress voted to change them.
  • Publish research reports and make datasets publicly available so as to create the foundation for ongoing research, analysis and better informed public debate.

The full paper is available here.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.