Immigration is one of the most contentious policy issues, and Congress has for decades failed to make any significant legislative progress. The result is an incoherent policy landscape and serious operational challenges on the ground. At the same time, immigration and immigrant integration are critical to U.S. workforce growth, government fiscal solvency, and innovation. I discuss key findings from the economics literature and their implications for where to focus immigration reform efforts.
The United States is the world’s most common destination for immigrants. About 14 percent of the U.S. population – and 18 percent of the American workforce – was born outside the U.S., and we often refer to the country as “a nation of immigrants.” But net migration slowed substantially in the 2016-2021 period, and our current policies fail to maximize the economic benefits of immigration.
What do economists have to say about immigration? To summarize a vast literature, most economists agree that immigration is good for the US economy on the whole. Immigration is critically beneficial to the labor force, the fiscal picture, and innovation. I will discuss each of these in turn below and then examine the policy landscape, describing the country’s current policies and the key changes needed for the U.S. economy to realize immigration’s full potential benefits.
There are important humanitarian considerations and other impacts of immigration policy, yet these issues are not the central focus of this piece.