Immigrants fill the gaps

They tend to be either highly educated or willing to work low-wage jobs, explains Penn State’s FARIBORZ GHADAR

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Though it cannot be denied that the United States has an unemployment problem, immigrants are not the reason. Even if you ignore the positive impact many have on the job market through becoming entrepreneurs, immigrants still do not create a liability.

Immigrants actually are the perfect complement to U.S. workers, who typically fill mid-range positions. Research indicates that immigrants are both better- and worse-educated than U.S.-born citizens. They are thus well equipped to fill the gaps in our nation’s workforce.

At one end of the spectrum, more than 1.9 percent of foreign-born workers have a doctorate degree, nearly twice the share of U.S.-born citizens. These people make up 27 percent of the U.S. workforce with a doctoral degree, which is especially impressive because the foreign-born population represents only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Additionally, research shows that for every 100 foreign students who receive an advanced STEM degree in the United States (in science, technology, engineering or math), 262 additional jobs are created.

Under our current immigration policies, however, employers are unable to fully make use of immigrants’ potential. Case in point: the short filing period for H-1 B visas, administered to immigrants with college degrees and typically applied for by companies rather than by individuals. In just 10 weeks during 2012, the number of H-1B visas for fiscal year 2013 ran out, even as the unemployment rate for computer and math occupations was 3.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicating a lack of U.S. workers with these skills.

As a result of visa restrictions, companies have started going abroad. While many American manufacturers and other businesses used to outsource jobs for cheaper labor, now it’s often to access highly skilled labor.

This seems rather nonsensical. Instead of restricting access to top global talent, the United States should grant companies the opportunity to employ those people here. Moreover, our nation should want our companies to not only employ those people but also to retain the world’s brightest minds — an easier feat when they’re located on our soil.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, almost 30 percent of immigrants lack a high school diploma. This is nearly four times the figure for U.S.-born citizens.

While some might consider having a significant quantity of uneducated people in our nation a negative attribute, this is not the case. These people frequently possess skills most Americans do not have and are willing to work in jobs many natives would turn down. Furthermore, thanks to the recent American trend to seek higher levels of education, most Americans will be overqualified for many of the vacant jobs left by the retirements of baby boomers. Between 2010 and 2030, the U.S. workforce is expected to need 50 million workforce substitutes.

Consider the manufacturing industry. Within the last decade, America lost 6 million manufacturing jobs. Still, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are left unfilled because there are not enough workers with the right skills.

In addition to working jobs many American do not want, low-skilled immigrants help the U.S. economy and workers in other ways. According to Forbes, “In 2012, the Department of Agriculture looked at the economic impact of cutting low-skilled immigrants by 6 million and found it would reduce Americans’ wages by up to 0.6 percent, or about $90 billion.”

Clearly, rather than placing more restrictions on foreign-born workers coming to the United States, our policies should embrace those who complement the established nature of our workforce.

Fariborz Ghadar, the William A. Schreyer Professor of Global Management, Policies and Planning and director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University, is the author of the recently released “Becoming American: Why Immigration is Good for Our Nation’s Future.”

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