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New MPI Book Examines Role of Immigration in Meeting U.S. Labor Market Needs, Makes Case for More Flexible Policies

Press Release
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New MPI Book Examines Role of Immigration in Meeting U.S. Labor Market Needs, Makes Case for More Flexible Policies

WASHINGTON — With the prospects for immigration reform greater than they have been in more than a decade, the United States may be on the cusp of historic change that makes the immigration system a more effective tool for business innovation, economic growth and competitiveness.

A timely new volume from the Migration Policy Institute, Immigrants in a Changing Labor Market: Responding to Economic Needs, offers important research on the economic impact of immigrants on the United States and the effects of the recession on immigrant and native-born workers. The book, released today, also discusses a series of reforms designed to inject greater flexibility into the U.S. immigration system, making it respond more nimbly to changing economic realities.

The final product of MPI’s Labor Markets Initiative, the edited volume includes chapters from leading economists and immigration experts, including Gordon Hanson, Harry Holzer, Giovanni Peri and Pia Orrenius with Madeline Zavodny.

Chapters examine employment outcomes for low-, middle-, and high-skilled workers; assess the economic effects of illegal immigration; trace immigrants’ trajectories in the construction, health care, hospitality and information technology sectors; and detail the impact of immigration in recession and economic expansion.

“One of the top themes flowing from research in the book bears considering at a time when many policymakers and publics believe that immigration is either a negative economic force or a panacea for all that ails the U.S. economy,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, the book’s co-editor. “Despite the rapid penetration of immigrants into the U.S. labor market over the past three decades, immigration is not a major driver for broad trends such as rising inequality or deteriorating earnings among low-skilled native workers.”

MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou, who co-edited the volume, said: “As policymakers evaluate immigration reform proposals in a difficult political and economic environment, they should heed the volume’s clear conclusion: immigration would be more consistent with the national interest if policies were more flexible and more responsive to economic needs. This would also serve the interests of most of those who engage the system: U.S. employers and workers, taxpayers, consumers and immigrants themselves.”

“In a redesigned system, one that reflects the realities of the economic landscape, more care and caution will be needed to ensure that immigration policies are sufficiently selective and that the country is making the most of the human capital it already possesses,” Papademetriou added.

In an era where legislative and public debate focus most keenly on high- and low-skilled immigration, the book, also edited by MPI Senior Policy Analyst Madeleine Sumption, crucially sheds light on the almost entirely overlooked population of middle-skilled workers. The ranks of middle-skilled workers have increased despite the fact there are few dedicated visas for them. Demand for these workers, who generally have more than high school and less than a college degree, could rise substantially in coming decades with the increased need for health care and other growing sectors.

Immigrants in a Changing Labor Market is the product of MPI’s Labor Markets Initiative, which provides a comprehensive, policy-focused review of the role of immigration in the labor market. The initiative offers policy recommendations on how the United States should rethink its immigration policy in the light of what is known about the economic impact of immigration — bearing in mind the current context of the economic crisis, growing income inequality, concerns about the effect of globalization on U.S. competitiveness, the competition for highly skilled migrants and demographic and technological change. Read more research from the Labor Markets Initiative here

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) 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. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.