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Explore the 15 key economic issues of immigration reform in America.

  • Agriculture, by any measure, is critically important to the U.S economy. In 2014, the agriculture, fishing, and forestry industries contributed more than $215 billion to U.S. gross domestic product. The broader industry also provided jobs to almost 2 million workers. The health of our agriculture industry, however, is tied directly to immigration. Farmers frequently say that few, if any, American workers are willing to take on the most difficult low-level farm jobs—particularly the hand harvesting roles required to produce fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet the H-2A visa, the only agricultural visa currently available to U.S. farms, is too expensive and cumbersome to work for many U.S. growers. We explore this issue—and the way it costs our economy—below.

  • When it comes to the health of our economy, it is hard to overstate the importance of entrepreneurship. Companies less than five years old create an average of 1.5 million new jobs for Americans each year.† And immigrants play a particularly important role driving this trend—founding businesses at far higher rates than the U.S. population overall. The United States, however, currently lacks a startup visa that would make it easy for foreign-born entrepreneurs with a proven idea and funding to remain here. This results in many young business owners struggling to stay—at a cost to our economy and its workers.

    † Jason Wiens and Chris Jackson, “The Importance of Young Firms for Economic Growth,” September 13, 2015. Available online.

  • Faith groups across the country have been vocal in their belief that immigration strengthens our communities and adamant in their support for common sense immigration reforms. The United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and many other religious groups have endorsed comprehensive immigration reform, and surveys consistently show that majorities of Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and Buddhists all overwhelmingly support reform. Mormons in particular have endorsed the Utah Compact, a statement of principles endorsing both strong border protections and the recognition that immigrants help fuel economic growth.

  • The United States has long been the destination for the world’s hardest working, entrepreneurial, and talented immigrants. However, U.S. immigration policy has remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s and is not designed to meet today’s economic needs. Only about 14 percent of all U.S. green cards are given for economic reasons, compared to more than 60 percent in Canada and Australia. On top of that, we lack a dedicated visa for entrepreneurs ready to create American jobs, and we frequently create barriers for international students hoping to remain in the country after graduation—even when they have the training in science, technology, engineering, or math that our employers desperately need.

  • In the coming years, as our country’s 76.4 million baby boomers enter their elderly years, our country’s healthcare system will face unprecedented demand, adding jobs faster than any other segment of our economy. Yet, employers are already finding that there are not enough unemployed healthcare workers to fill vacant positions, and in some rural areas, shortages are particularly acute.

    For several reasons, immigrants have been a particularly important stopgap filling some of our most glaring healthcare needs. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born to fill lesser skilled home health aide positions, but also twice as likely to fill high-skilled positions as physicians and surgeons. And because immigrants tend to be more willing to move for a job than the native-born, and there are visa provisions to encourage this, immigrants also fill doctor vacancies in some of our rural communities with the greatest need. A smarter immigration system, however, could help fill far more gaps in our healthcare system, benefiting patients.

  • Almost 15 million Americans work in tourism and hospitality—in hotels, amusement parks, art museums, and restaurants—making it the fifth largest industry in the country.1 Many of these jobs depend on our immigration and visa systems. International visitors create high demand for the industry. Meanwhile, many employers face difficulties in finding enough American workers to staff resorts and attractions, particularly ones in rural communities. Current immigration and visa policies not only discourage international tourists and business travelers, but also hinder businesses from finding the workers on which their industry relies.

    1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Industry employment and output projection to 2024,” Monthly Labor Review, December 2015. Available online.

  • For America to compete in the 21st century, we need a robust innovation economy—which requires a workforce skilled in the science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields. Yet American students are not entering those industries in sufficient numbers, and the United States is projected to face a shortage of one million STEM workers by 2022.1 Foreign-born students frequently gravitate towards STEM disciplines, making up roughly one out of every three individuals earning graduate-level STEM degrees each year. Our broken visa system, however, makes it difficult many of them to stay after graduation—a reality that hurts the ability of our employers to expand and create more opportunity for American workers.

    1 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “Engage to Excel: Producing 1 million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” February 2012. Available online.

  • Although they account for just five percent of all students in U.S. colleges and universities, international students play an important role in our economy. They gravitate towards the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, producing a large number of patents and gaining skills that help our employers innovate and compete. They spend tens of billions of dollars as consumers, supporting local businesses. And the companies they go on to found—such as Google, Yahoo!, and Trulia—employ hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

  • Workers who fill labor-intensive jobs are a critical part of the economy. They clean homes and offices. They power our factories. They harvest crops by hand. However—even as demand for such workers has remained strong—demographic trends are shrinking the pool of native-born individuals willing and able to perform such physically difficult work. This has made the presence of immigrant workers critical to the survival of many U.S. businesses. Rather than hurt other workers, they often help companies expand, creating more attractive opportunities for American workers.

  • Rhetoric about refugees in the United States is often dominated by discussions about humanitarian obligations on the one hand and public safety concerns on the other. While both are clearly relevant, this narrow focus misses what many American communities see as the most enduring legacy of these newcomers: the positive economic impact they have on the cities and towns that they ultimately come to call home. Refugees have entrepreneurship and homeownership rates that far exceed that of other immigrants. Many aging and once declining communities—from Utica, New York to Bevo Mill in St. Louis—have credited young, entrepreneurial refugees with reinvigorating their local economy and commercial main streets.1

    1 Sasha Chanoff, “Refugees Revitalize American Cities,” November 25, 2016. Available online.

  • It is essential that any meaningful immigration reform include border security and enforcement measures that address the country’s real national security and economic needs. That means not only creating smart, efficient security systems, but also reforming the legal immigration system. Such an approach will provide a legal avenue for employers to recruit the workers they need to grow, while also effectively discouraging future illegal immigration and providing adequate protections for American workers.

  • The role immigrants play in supporting economic growth and vitality is often most visible at the state and local level. Whether through bolstering population growth, revitalizing Main Street with small businesses, or increasing the number of patents and innovative ideas at state universities, immigrants have a positive and tangible impact in communities across the United States. But how states and localities approach immigration can determine whether those contributions are maximized or wasted.

    You can explore more of our work on the state and local level here.

  • The contributions immigrants make as both taxpayers and consumers are indispensable to the U.S. economy. Nationally, immigrants earned $1.3 trillion in 2014 and contributed $105 billion in state and local taxes and almost $224 billion in federal taxes. This left them with nearly $927 billion in spending power, which they frequently used to purchase goods and services, stimulate local business activity, and create jobs in the broader U.S. economy.

  • There are many compelling reasons why having a large undocumented population is a problem for society. It undermines law and order, permits a shadow economy that is harder to regulate, and is simply unfair to the millions of immigrants who have come here legally. Yet, while the undocumented population frequently comes under fierce criticism, the data shows that a large number of the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants here are working, paying taxes, and even starting their own businesses. They also play an integral role in our economy, often filling jobs in agriculture, construction, and hospitality that would otherwise remain vacant.

  • In many ways, the growth in the immigrant population in recent years has helped to strengthen and remake America. As the baby boomers retire, younger immigrants are filling gaps in our workforce and paying the taxes that help our entitlement programs survive. They are buying homes in communities that would be in decline otherwise. And naturalized immigrants are gaining more influence at the voting booth, a trend that will only accelerate in the coming decade.

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New American Economy brings together more than 500 mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. More…

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