Op-ed: Surprise Trump immigration deal would boost US economy

In a surprising break from the usual proposals from President Trump’s administration, Politico reported this week on the beginnings of a compromise that would provide more visas and increase the number of immigrants. Not much is known about the structure of the deal so far, but discussions reportedly center on creating additional categories of temporary work visas to meet the needs of agriculture and construction industries.

As someone who grew up in a town with more cows than people, I cannot find major faults with these proposals. Growing up, the grocery store in my hometown closed down due to a lack of customers, and other businesses were constantly looking for workers. My hometown’s experience is far from unique. Across Americabusinesses are desperately seeking workers. Reforming our immigration system would help power U.S. businesses and continue the economic success of the last decade.

Immigration debates often focus on claims that immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens or reduce wages. These arguments make sense in cases where immigrant workers are similar to U.S. workers. And yet, those cases are limited and growing scarcer every day for several reasons.

First, most Americans are more highly educated than immigrants who would enter the U.S. through the kinds of worker programs being proposed. That’s a big reason why U.S. construction companies and U.S. farmers are struggling to hire workers: Americans are better suited for better-paying jobs off the farm.

Even in cases where immigrants and natives have similar education levels, researchers have found evidence of U.S. workers gaining new skills or moving up the ladder to management positions when immigrants begin working with them. The realities of business operations means speaking English, so even against similarly educated immigrants, natives have an edge.  

Second, take the example of my hometown’s closed grocery store. Like many businesses, it closed because it didn’t have enough customers to keep it running. Although it’s impossible to know if immigrants moving into town would have saved it, more people would have meant more customers. That’s an aspect of the immigration conversation that is too often forgotten. Immigrants don’t just bring workers, they also bring new shoppers for existing businesses and entrepreneurs who start new companies. 

Some communities are already seeing the benefits that immigration can bring. For example, Fox News recently reported on the town of Storm Lake, Iowa, where immigrants have kept the town culturally and economically alive. As the mayor told reporters, “If you want to grow in a rural area, you’re going to need immigration to support your businesses and the economics in your community.” 

In fact, we already know that even temporary immigrant worker programs bring economic success to businesses, and not just in small towns. In a study looking at the stock market performance of agricultural and construction businesses, economists found that similar grants of temporary work authorization boosted their performance above the market, and did so for at least six months.

The story of America is one of a promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Legislation that creates more avenues for those who share that vision to come and work in the U.S. should always be celebrated. The recent proposal is one example of a promising solution that would boost the economic energy of U.S. companies.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.