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Explore the 14 key economic issues of immigration reform in America.

  • Agriculture and farming is a cherished part of American identity and remains an important part of the American economy. In 2020, the agriculture, fishing, and forestry industries contributed more than $175 billion to U.S. GDP and supported more than 2.3 million workers. The health of America’s farms and the agriculture industry, however, is tied directly to immigration. Farmers frequently worry about finding enough workers as few Americans seem willing to take on the most difficult and physical farm jobs—particularly those harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet the H-2A visa, the only agricultural visa currently available to American 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.

  • Entrepreneurship and business creation is fundamental to a healthy economy. Companies less than five years old create an average of 1.5 million new jobs for Americans each year.† Immigrants in particular play an important role in creating jobs as they are more likely to start a new business than the rest of the population. Despite this, the United States lacks a startup visa to welcome immigrant entrepreneurs with a proven idea and solid investment. This results in many 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 States 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 most talented immigrants. Despite the last 50 years of technological advancement, American immigration policy has remained virtually unchanged, putting in danger America’s global competitiveness. Yesterday’s immigration policy no longer meets 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. With no dedicated visa for entrepreneurs and numerous barriers to residency in place for international students to stay after graduation, America’s outdated immigration policy could allow other countries to out-compete us by attracting and keeping the best and brightest there and not here.

  • 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 tourists create high demand for the tourism industry. Meanwhile, many employers have trouble finding enough American workers to staff resorts, hotels, and attractions. Current policies not only discourage international tourists and business travelers, but also keep American businesses from finding the workers on which the tourism 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 for 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.

  • They say all politics is local, right? While most of the debate about immigration focuses on congressional action (or inaction), local communities across the country are the ones who feel the value of immigration most tangibly.

    Now active in more than 50 communities – more than 80 percent of which are in conservative states – the NAE State & Local team works with policymakers, business, and civic leaders to promote policies and programs that help create jobs and drive economic growth.

    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.

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  • It’s essential that the United States ensure that people who come here do so legally. The reality, however, is that there are currently an estimated 11 million individuals living in the United States without legal status, the vast majority of whom are working, paying taxes, and contributing in both economic and non-economic ways to their community, often starting their own businesses, and playing integral roles in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and other industries that are essential to the U.S. economy.

  • The growth in the immigrant population has helped to strengthen and remake America over the last two decades. Today, as thousands of baby boomers retire each day, working-age immigrants are filling gaps in the labor market, paying billions of dollars in taxes that help our entitlement programs survive, and buying homes in communities that would otherwise be in decline. Millions of immigrants have also earned U.S. citizenship and the right to vote while millions more are estimated to be eligible to naturalize.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…