November 4, 2009 8:52AM

Immigrants Respond to Economic Incentives

As I blogged here, I got my green card in April — and am now counting down the days till I can naturalize (five years from the green card, though you can apply three months before that and processing takes a year or so). Because of my various travails over the years that led to that fortunate day this spring, I’ve learned quite a bit about immigration, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law. Indeed, both before joining Cato and ever since, it’s been an area in which I’ve been writing and speaking — and I appreciate very much the synergy this work has had with my colleagues in the trade and immigration shop.

One oped I had in National Review Online dealt with H‐​1Bs, the temporary visas for highly skilled workers to work in the United States. One of the problems with H‐​1Bs is that they provide no path to a green card (meaning permanent residence) or citizenship — so just as hard‐​working, tax‐​paying professionals gain expertise in a particular American company or industry, just as they grow roots in an American community, they have to leave. Nevertheless, there have long been more H-1B applicants than available visas. The last few years, the annual 65,000 quota has been oversubscribed on the very first day of eligibility for each fiscal year!

Well, not any more. As this recent article points out, the recession has impacted our immigration system as well: “A coveted visa program that feeds skilled workers to top‐​tier U.S. technology companies and universities [the H-1B program] is on track to leave thousands of spots unfilled for the first time since 2003, a sign of how the weak economy has eroded employment even among highly trained professionals.”

This is just another indication that the free movement of goods, money, and people, will regulate even such perceived social ills as “foreigners taking American jobs.” There’s simply no need for “U.S. citizen only” provisions in (so‐​called) stimulus bills, or (further) immigration restrictions during bad economic times.

In other words, even foreigners respond to market incentives.

For more on Cato’s work on immigration policy, go here.