E.g., 04/16/2024
E.g., 04/16/2024
Immigration Policy and Less-Skilled Workers in the United States: Reflections on Future Directions for Reform

Notwithstanding the broad consensus on the benefits of highly skilled immigration, the economic role of less-skilled immigrants is one of the most controversial questions in the immigration debate. While less-skilled immigrants bring economic benefits for U.S. consumers, employers, and skilled workers, they impose some costs on U.S. workers competing for similar jobs, as this report notes. Additionally, many less-skilled workers find economic integration and upward mobility difficult.

The complex array of benefits and costs accruing to different sections of the U.S. society and economy makes it impossible to define an “optimal” level of less-skilled immigration. As immigrants integrate socially and economically, the economic benefits and costs they generate change.

However, economics does indicate some clear improvements could be made to the design of the immigration system. The author sketches a number of these improvements, including adding measures to channel currently illegal immigration through legal routes; increasing the ability of less-skilled immigrants on employment-based visas to switch employers more easily and to gain a path to citizenship; making employer visa fees sufficient to offset some of the costs of low-skilled immigration; including flexibility in the numbers admitted; and creating policies that facilitate state-level variation in the design and implementation of immigration.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Immigration Reform: General Goals and Primary Questions

III. Empirical Research on Unskilled Immigrants: A Few Answers, Lots of Questions

A. Costs: Lower Earnings among Native-Born Workers

B. Benefits: For Employers, Consumers, and the Economy

C. Do the Costs and Benefits Vary by Immigrant Category

D. Immigrant Integration: What Are the Stakes for Native-Born Workers?

IV. Immigration Policy

A. The Senate Bill: Closer to the Mark

B. Helpful Adjustments

C. The Many Remaining Uncertainties

D. A Few Broader Issues

V. Conclusion