Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

CGD in the News

The Pitfalls of Cutting Low-Skilled Immigration (Bloomberg View)

August 10, 2017

From the article:

President Donald Trump has thrown his support to the Cotton-Perdue bill to restrict legal immigration of low-skilled workers into the U.S. by as much as 50 percent on the grounds it would raise the wages of American working families.

That’s not what the economic evidence is showing, however.

The only academically solid study of the impact of reducing legal immigration on the wages of unskilled farm workers was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in February of this year. It found no effect on wages despite half a million Mexican seasonal farm workers leaving the U.S. after the Bracero program was terminated in 1964.

One possible explanation is that demand for Mexican labor refused to decline despite the designs of U.S. policymakers. Closing the door to legal migrant workers simply created a new incentive for foreign workers to cross the border, and that incentive was stronger than being on the wrong side of U.S. law.

Demand for temporary work visas also seems to increase during immigration crackdowns. Indeed Trump’s push may be responsible for the reported surge of temporary visas into this country, including at his properties. This is no masterstroke of policy reform; it’s more like moving numbers from one column to another.

The Bracero experience should serve as a warning to both the president and Congress. Not only will American working families not benefit from the legal cutbacks, but illegal migrants and temporary workers can surge to replace the legal ones that are kept out.

Read full article here.

Related Experts

Photo of Michael Clemens
Co-Director of Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy and Senior Fellow