Setting Immigration Quotas - the Mystery of the Wages

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Summary: What is the science that documents that our immigration quotas are the magic number, below which all immigration blesses us and above which all immigration destroys us? Are quota levels ever questioned? Missing from the national discussion is any realization that quotas are set without reference to any measure of how many immigrants we can take in before their blessing to us becomes a threat to us and our nation. In fact, no such measure exists, or has ever been alleged to exist, or has ever been proposed, or can exist. (The original version of this article is posted at CafeConLecheRepublicans.com.)

Setting Immigration Quotas - the Mystery of the Wages[edit]

Are immigration quota levels ever questioned?

Current levels allow about a million a year to come legally. Allowing another million a year to come would cut today's federal deficit by a quarter of a trillion dollars (half our current deficit) according to Senate Testimony in 2013. Why then is no one talking about allowing two million more to come, so we can wipe out our deficit? (Our deficit is how much more our government goes in debt each year; wiping out our deficit – that is, balancing our budget – would still leave us with debt to pay down.) Or three million, so we can actually start paying down our frightening debt?

Millions are here illegally who would gladly have come legally had our quotas not denied them any “line” to “get in”. But we put those quotas so high up on a pedestal that we equate them with “Rule of Law”, in the sense that those who come in violation of them are said to “violate the Rule of Law”, so we must enforce our quotas with all the energy appropriate to saving our great land from the breakdown of the Rule of Law.

Much national discussion lays the blame squarely at the feet of the “illegals”, as if those immigrants had a choice between coming legally or coming illegally and they chose to come illegally. The national discussion is generally devoid of any realization that for most “illegals”, there is no “line” for them to get in to come legally since the average wait time is well over a lifetime, and many must come quickly to save their lives or the lives of their families. No blame is alleged or even imagined for quotas. Almost no one questions whether the levels they are set at are perfect, and fewer question whether we should have any at all, any more than anyone seriously questions whether we should have air. Of course we should have air, and we should have just as much of it as we do. It cannot be the fault of quotas that millions are here illegally, any more than it can be the fault of air that millions have trouble breathing.

Update March 10, 2016: a question at the CNN debate tonight proved wrong the idea that immigration quota levels are never questioned. "[Stephen] DINAN: The United States averages about a million new permanent legal immigrants a year and hundreds of thousands more guest workers. What should the right level be?" The question was asked of Ted Cruz, who ignored the question and instead summarized his immigration agenda again. Dinan did not follow up to get his question answered, nor did he ask it of any other candidate.

Can too much good be bad?[edit]

Both the Republican and Democrat party platforms agree legal immigrants are a blessing to our nation and to individual citizens. They increase our “prosperity”, and make “vital contributions to every aspect of our nation by enriching our culture and strengthening our economy”, which “enables us to better understand and more effectively compete with the rest of the world., making them “too valuable a resource to lose”. Almost all national discussion is as emphatic about the blessings we reap from “legals”, as it is about the curses we suffer from “illegals”: they take our jobs, drive down our wages, drive up our national debt, destroy our culture, conceal terrorists. They threaten America's very survival, it is commonly said.

What is the science that documents that our quotas are the magic number, below which all immigration blesses us and above which all immigration destroys us?

We citizen voters are the ultimate lawmakers, in that we pick our lawmakers. Why do we have no national discussion about whether our current quota levels are in our best interests? Even when we talk about “immigration reform”, we talk about what to do with “dreamers” and “illegals”, and whether to have “guest worker” visas. But the process by which we determine quotas is never questioned. It is treated as if it were as unchangeable as gravity.

OK, there are occasional arguments about whether to raise quotas for H1B visas. (Highly educated or skilled STEM workers – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.) But even those debates focus on two corporations accused of misusing the H1B program. Critics say our current level is too high while fraud like that continues; supporters say it should be raised. No one says the quota level is just right.

Does anyone ever ask, “how do our wise lawmakers figure out just the right number of immigrants to allow to come legally, below which we would be deprived of all the benefits of legal immigrants, and above which we would be cursed with all the grave dangers of illegals”?

The science by which quotas are set that most benefit citizens[edit]

In other words, by what science do politicians set the numerical limits high enough that citizens don't miss any of the blessings of legal immigration, but not high enough to curse us with the grave threats from illegal immigration?

How do they do it? Does a team of Nobel Prize winning economists gather to inform lawmakers of the correct number, below which the economy will miss the contribution of legals, and above which illegals will take our jobs?

No, that's not how they know.

Do the economists at the Congressional Budget Office pull together all the published economics research and establish the correct figure from that consensus?

Well, the CBO reports are informative, but they have never compared the economic impact of various quota levels to establish the optimum level. Rather, they have only studied the quota level of legislation about to be passed. Furthermore, before 2013, all the CBO estimated was the impact for the IRS; 2013 was the first time they estimated the economic impact for all the rest of us, on our jobs and wages. And the 2013 legislation never became law, so the numerical limits in our laws today were set without reference to any CBO analysis.

Missing from the national discussion is any realization that quotas are set without reference to any measure of how many immigrants we can take in before their blessing to us becomes a threat to us and our nation. There isn't even hardly any national acknowledgment that we even have quotas, so many people don't even know quotas are the reason “illegals” don't just “get in line like everybody else”.

In fact, no such measure exists, or has ever been alleged to exist, or can exist, or has ever been proposed.

(Since this is a wiki to which anyone can add, this would be a great place to insert evidence of any such measure if you know of any.)

No such measure exists. Our immigration laws contain no process for adjusting quota levels monthly as conditions change in order to keep numerical limits at the optimum number for our citizens and nation. There is neither any process, nor are they changed, even once a year. Or once a decade.

Immigration quotas are completely arbitrary. There is no science behind them. They are purely the result of political compromise between those who believe all immigrants harm us, and those who believe all immigrants bless us, and a few in between – beliefs that exist mostly independently of any evidence or science.

No such measure can exist. Economics does not affirm an upper limit on how many immigrants we can welcome before their contribution becomes negative. No economic research finds that any low level of immigration is more positive, in the long run, than any higher level. Responsible research (as opposed to the “research” of Undocumented Economists who have no university credentials in the subject), produces these findings:

  • The impact of immigration, even large waves of immigration, on wages and jobs is so close to zero that some research lands slightly on the negative side and some slightly on the positive side. It may be summarized as consensus in a far more positive appreciation of the contribution of immigration than is found in the claims of the Undocumented Economists who dominate national immigration discussion.
  • The initial impact of an unexpected wave of immigrants tends more to the slightly negative, while the long range impact tends more to the slightly positive. The lag is because it takes some time for tools and facilities to be created to put the new immigrants to work; to the extent immigrant flow is predictable (for example, if government weren't monkeying with it) so investors can prepare work for them, there would be no initial wage depression.
  • The particular group of U.S. workers suffering this initial job competition are similarly skilled, similarly educated workers. Thus, the workers most affected by a wave of low-skilled immigrants are not citizens, but the most recent previous wave of low-skilled immigrants. To the extent citizens are affected, it is mostly high school dropouts who are not yet adults.
  • To the extent the skill sets of immigrants have the same proportions as in the citizen population (for example if the government doesn't upset the ratio with higher quotas for some categories than for others) there would be no job or wage competition, because everyone who comes to take a job also creates a job by requiring the services of citizens to live here - so it is only when the proportions of skills are knocked out of balance that unexpected increases produce competition.
  • The only workers who suffer job competition for immigration are those whose skills are most like the skill levels that are a higher proportion among the immigrant population than in the citizen population. All other employment areas enjoy an initial wage boost, because the increased demand for their services creates a shortage of workers in their fields. (This is acknowledged in a workbook by George Borjas, the economist most quoted by restrictionists.)

In view of these facts, which are disputed only by Undocumented Economists and their followers, no measure of the economic impact of immigration can possibly set an optimum quota, below which citizens benefit and above which citizens suffer, because there is no level of immigration whose net long range impact on citizens is negative, that any economic research has documented.

No such measure has ever even been alleged to exist. No one publicly points to any process anywhere in our government today for establishing an optimum value.

(Of course there are other alleged and real harmful impacts of immigration besides economic ones. See [www.Saltshaker.us/HispanicHope/win-winsolution.pdf “A Win-Win Solution”] for other immigration problems and how they could be better controlled in a nation without immigration quotas.)

Nor has any such measure ever been proposed. The quota triggers in S744 are no exception. (S744 was the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill of 2013 which passed the Senate but not the House.)

S744 quota triggers for college-educated STEM immigrants (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) would have been between 115,000 and 180,000 depending partly on the unemployment rate. The quotas would only have been allowed to rise above 115,000 when the unemployment rate in their field was less than 4.5%. The amount above that would have depended on how early in the year applications soared above 115,000.

Although that reference to unemployment levels sounds vaguely suggestive of an intelligent calculation of conditions in which more immigration will not take jobs from citizens, that goal is not stated in the legislation, and no science assures us that holding immigration below 115,000 will prevent those workers taking jobs from citizens, or that letting them rise above 180,000 will increase the number of jobs taken from citizens, or that that there is any unemployment level, much less that it is exactly 4.5%, below which immigrants will not take jobs from citizens and above which they will.

Nor is there any consensus that the trigger in fact identifies the optimum level of immigration: restrictionists still believe the triggers are too high, and expansionists believe it is too low. There is probably no lawmaker who actually believes they would have been just right. The figures are completely arbitrary, standing apart from any evidence, and enjoying no consensus that they are anything but arbitrary and unrelated to evidence.

S744's triggers for less educated workers are even more obviously not alleged to pinpoint the level of immigration that will most benefit citizens, because there are no triggers in the bill. Rather, the bill creates a new bureaucracy whose mission is to come up with a formula which no one has figured out yet, but $20 million a year would be set aside to a new bunch of bureaucrats to come up with one. Their job would be to figure out how short a “shortage” is, of jobs, and to decide what number of brand new visas, called “W” visas, to allow according to whether the shortage is short enough.

But no matter how saturated a job market is they would be required to grant at least 20,000 visas, and no matter how short a shortage is, they would be prohibited from granting any more than 200,000 visas.

Although the bureaucrats would include economists and other relevant experts, any scientific basis for said formula would be mixed with political considerations since it would be adopted after a period of public comment. The influence of lobbyists is shown by the inclusion of Alaskan seafood workers as recipients, by law, of the new “W” visas.

“Such methodology must designate Alaskan seafood processing in zones 1, 2, and 3 as shortage occupations.” Whoa! One might detect pressures on this methodology to favor the optimum levels for lobbyists over the optimum levels for citizens!

The bureaucracy is supposed “To devise a methodology” for deciding how many lesser skilled/educated immigrants to allow, between a minimum of 20,000 and the maximum of 200,000, and “To determine and to publish in the Federal Register the annual change to the numerical limitation” for them when “the Commissioner determines” a particular low-skilled occupation “is experiencing a shortage of labor”.

So the adjustment is “annual”. If an oil spill instantly depresses Alaskan seafood processing jobs, never you mind, those visas will come charging in for the next year, thanks to government's sticky fingers in the job soup. If new technology instantly creates a demand for an army of new workers, that army is going to have to wait for a year.

$20 million from taxpayers is $1,000 per immigrant if they go for the lower number. But they will get lots more from immigrants: “OTHER FEES- The Secretary may establish other fees for the sole purpose of funding the W Visa Program, including the Bureau, that are related to the hiring of alien workers.” The USCIS in general has been remarkably successful in raising immigrant fees high enough to mostly fund the entire department. As long as bureaucrats can charge fees high enough to cover their salaries, it is a foregone conclusion that they will consistently document a “shortage” right up to their 200,000 limit, so Congress might just as well fix it at 200,000 and save the trouble.

“Employee Expertise- The employees of the Bureau shall have the expertise necessary to identify labor shortages in the United States and make recommendations to the Commissioner on the impact of immigrant and nonimmigrant aliens on labor markets in the United States, including expertise in economics, labor markets, demographics and methods of recruitment of United States workers.”

This is going to throw a monkeywrench into the whole process, to allow economists in there, because economists are liable to ask embarrassing questions. Like, “how short is a shortage?” or “if our target is presumed to be a level of immigration that doesn't take jobs from citizens, what if responsible research shows there is no level of immigration that does not benefit citizens in the long run?”

As Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson put it to me so eloquently, when I asked him if, as we try to understand the economic impact of immigration, we shouldn't listen to economists, “No! Economists are the people who got our nation in trouble! We need to listen to people with common sense!”

See? Putting economists on that commission is the last thing politicians want. Reality is just going to mess up everything for them.

Quotes from S744 - H1B Visas[edit]

ImmigrationPolicy.org summarizes what S744 does:

Title IV addresses existing visa programs for nonimmigrant workers and creates a new W visa for lesser-skilled workers, along with a government office to monitor the current employment numbers in the United States and adjust visa caps accordingly (sections 4101-4913) ImmigrationPolicy.org

(“Nonimmigrants” are immigrants who can prove they have a permanent home outside the U.S., but who want to work here temporarily.)

S744 has a formula for increasing H1B visas (for highly educated STEM immigrants) from 115,000 to a ceiling of 180,000, provided unemployment in that sector does not rise above 4.5% and provided applications pour in at a certain rate. Sec. 4101 has a numerical limit of 115,000 when unemployment is above 4.5%. When it is below, the limit can increase to a maximum of 180,000 depending on how early in the year applications flood in.

(Any increase above 115,000) “(ii) may not take place to make additional nonimmigrant visas available for any fiscal year in which the national occupational unemployment rate for ‘Management, Professional, and Related Occupations’, as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month, averages 4.5 percent or greater over the 12-month period preceding the date of the Secretary’s determination of whether the cap should be increased or decreased.’”

Low skilled immigrants would come under a different formula which no one has figured out yet, but $20 million a year would be set aside to a new bunch of bureaucrats to come up with one. Their job would be to figure out how short a “shortage” is, of jobs, and to decide what number of brand new visas, called “W” visas, to allow according to whether the shortage is short enough. But no matter how saturated a job market is they would be required to grant at least 20,000 visas, and no matter how short a shortage is, they would be prohibited from granting any more than 200,000 visas. Although the bureaucrats would include economists and other relevant experts, any scientific basis for said formula would be mixed with political considerations since it would be adopted after a period of public comment. The influence of lobbyists is shown by the inclusion of Alaskan seafood workers as recipients, by law, of the new “W” visas. The rest of this article is quotes from S744:


SEC. 4701. BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION AND LABOR MARKET RESEARCH. (a) Definitions- In this section: ...

(5) SHORTAGE OCCUPATION- The term ‘shortage occupation’ means an occupation that the Commissioner determines is experiencing a shortage of labor--(A) throughout the United States; or (B) in a specific metropolitan statistical area.

(6) W VISA PROGRAM- The term ‘W Visa Program’ means the program for the admission of nonimmigrant aliens described in subparagraph (W)(i) of section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)), as added by section 4702.

(7) ZONE 1 OCCUPATION- The term ‘zone 1 occupation’ means an occupation that requires little or no preparation and is classified as a zone 1 occupation on--

(A) the Occupational Information Network Database (O*NET) on the date of the enactment of this Act; or

(B) such Database or a similar successor database, as designated by the Secretary of Labor, after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(b) Establishment- There is established a Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research as an independent statistical agency within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

(c) Commissioner- The head of the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research is the Commissioner, who shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

(d) Duties- The duties of the Commissioner are limited to the following:

(1) To devise a methodology subject to publication in the Federal Register and an opportunity for public comment regarding the calculation for the index referred to in section 220(g)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added by section 4703.

(2) To determine and to publish in the Federal Register the annual change to the numerical limitation for nonimmigrant aliens described in subparagraph (W)(i) of section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)), as added by section 4702.

(3) With respect to the W Visa Program, to supplement the recruitment methods employers may use to attract United States workers and current nonimmigrant aliens described in paragraph (2).

(e) Determination of Changes to Numerical Limitations- The methodology required under subsection (d)(1) shall be published in the Federal Register not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(g) Employee Expertise- The employees of the Bureau shall have the expertise necessary to identify labor shortages in the United States and make recommendations to the Commissioner on the impact of immigrant and nonimmigrant aliens on labor markets in the United States, including expertise in economics, labor markets, demographics and methods of recruitment of United States workers.

(j) Funding-

(1) APPROPRIATION OF FUNDS- There is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, $20,000,000 to establish the Bureau.

(2) USE OF W NONIMMIGRANT FEES- The amounts collected for fees under section 220(e)(6)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added by section 4703, shall be used to establish and fund the Bureau.

(3) OTHER FEES- The Secretary may establish other fees for the sole purpose of funding the W Visa Program, including the Bureau, that are related to the hiring of alien workers.

‘(B) NUMERICAL LIMITATION- Subject to subparagraph (D), the number of registered positions that may be approved by the Secretary for a year after the fourth year referred to in paragraph (1)(A)(iv) shall be equal to the sum of--

‘(i) the number of such registered positions available under this paragraph for the preceding year; and

‘(ii) the product of-- ‘(I) the number of such registered positions available under this paragraph for the preceding year; multiplied by ‘(II) the index for the current year calculated under subparagraph (C).

‘(C) INDEX- The index calculated under this subparagraph for a current year equals the sum of--‘(i ) one-fifth of a fraction--‘(I) the numerator of which is the number of registered positions that registered employers applied to have approved under subsection (e)(1) for the preceding year minus the number of registered positions approved under subsection (e) for the preceding year; and ‘(II) the denominator of which is the number of registered positions approved under subsection (e) for the preceding year;

‘(ii) one-fifth of a fraction--‘(I) the numerator of which is the number of registered positions the Commissioner recommends be available under this subparagraph for the current year minus the number of registered positions available under this subsection for the preceding year; and ‘(II) the denominator of which is the number of registered positions available under this subsection for the preceding year;

‘(iii) three-tenths of a fraction--‘(I) the numerator of which is the number of unemployed United States workers for the preceding year minus the number of unemployed United States workers for the current year; and ‘(II) the denominator of which is the number of unemployed United States workers for the preceding year; and

‘(iv) three-tenths of a fraction-- ‘(I) the numerator of which is the number of job openings as set out in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the current year minus such number of job openings for the preceding year; and ‘(II) the denominator of which is the number of such job openings for the preceding year;

‘(D) MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM LEVELS- The number of registered positions calculated under subparagraph (B) for a 12-month period may not be less than 20,000 nor more than 200,000.