More broadly, of all the developed countries, the U.S. puts the lowest priority on potential economic benefits when reviewing prospective immigrants, according to Pia Orrenius, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. She estimates that of the 1.1 million green cards issued every year, 85% are to family members or for humanitarian purposes. Only 15% are for highly skilled immigrants based on employment, and half of those go to the workers’ spouses and children. Australia, Britain and Canada are outcompeting the U.S. for skilled people by using a point system based on immigrants’ education and ability to invest or start companies.
The parts of the U.S. system that are designed to boost the economy need updating. The H-1B visa program, established in 1990, creates 65,000 visas a year for highly skilled workers. But the demand for skilled technologists has grown so much since then that in some years this quota has been filled within hours. No wonder Steve Jobs was impatient.
Smarter immigration policy would give less-skilled immigrants a path to citizenship that could include language and civics requirements. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that legalizing the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. would boost revenues by $48 billion over 10 years while costing $23 billion in increased public services.