The week ahead

Tom Hudson: The economics of immigration


Special to The Miami Herald

One of the most important pieces of federal legislation for long term investors isn’t about spending or taxes. It’s not about banking regulations or even Social Security reforms. It’s immigration. A long-awaited major immigration reform bill is expected to be the focus on Capitol Hill in the coming week.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform. While debate likely will concentrate on the controversial effort to forge a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people in the United States illegally, immigration is about economic prosperity more that politics.

Make no mistake, the path to citizenship deserves careful and passionate debate, but other programs also will offer important economic implications for investors and the economy.

It’s often said immigrants fill jobs Americans just won’t do. Look no further than America’s food chain. Picking lettuce or packing butchered meat, tens of thousands of agricultural workers are in the United States illegally. They may be considered low-skilled workers but they provide a necessary link in our food supply, working for relatively low wages, helping keep America’s food supply widely affordable. Meantime, these jobs provide the workers with opportunities they don’t have in their home countries.

As for highly skilled workers, it took less than a week this year for the government to hit the quota of H-1B visas. These are for temporary workers in specialty jobs. The technology industry, especially, relies on these visas to attract overseas talent. Critics argue allowing in more high-skilled immigrants steals jobs away from Americans. However, these high-skilled and highly motivated workers create new employment opportunities for the entire economy and they pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.

The United States is approaching middle-age. The most recent data puts the median age of Americans at 37 years old. That’s much younger than the struggling economies of Europe and Japan but far older than the developing and faster growing economies in Latin America and India. One of America’s greatest exports is personal prosperity. Immigration reform represents that.

Tom Hudson is a financial journalist based in Miami. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of Nightly Business Report on public television. Follow him on Twitter @HudsonsView.

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