But as the colossal economic crisis became more apparent, with more than 20 million Americans filing for unemployment, it did not take long for President Trump to go back to unfounded arguments for “protecting American workers” by suspending immigration.
While it’s still unclear what the measures he announced Monday via tweet will look like (adding another layer of uncertainty to this crisis), the move will certainly affect skilled and specialized workers who will play a crucial part in the eventual recuperation of the U.S. economy. This is already after the number of visas issued to foreigners abroad has declined by 25 percent since 2016.
It’s now clear that members of this administration are not just against illegal immigration because, as they’ve always claimed, they care about the law. Rather, their battle is against all immigration, in line with the darkest nationalist playbooks. To be clear: None of the administration arguments on why blocking immigration would protect the jobs and wages of American workers is backed up by evidence. In fact, quite the contrary.
Most economists agree with the facts learned from dozens of studies that look at immigration and labor markets: The effects immigrants have on native wages and unemployment are negligible, at most. It is easy to say the contrary, and maybe even popular in some circles, but that doesn’t make it true.
In fact, if there is something that will be needed more than ever to return unemployment to normal levels after the covid-19 pandemic ends, it is more, not less, immigration. Immigrants, roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population, are responsible for about a quarter of U.S. start-ups and patents each year, and that percentage has been increasing for decades. Moreover, through a number of different measures, we now know, too, that employment growth is faster for businesses started by immigrant entrepreneurs as opposed to those launched by the native-born over three- and six-year horizons.
In the midst of an economic collapse that will more significantly affect small and medium enterprises (SMEs) than established large firms with enough cash flow and resources to survive, the policy prescription should go in line with creating an environment to boost the creation of productive SMEs that would foster competition within industries. Halting immigration, and with it business investment and creation, is doing exactly the opposite. In fact, there is now robust evidence showing how restricting immigration results in U.S. companies pushing jobs out of the United States.
Even putting entrepreneurship aside, the United States cannot continue to be a strong global power without all of its immigrants. For every talented American chief executive or doctor, there is an army of fundamental workers around them, without whom the CEO wouldn’t be able to run the firm and doctors couldn’t save lives. In fact, in its projections of the fastest-growing occupations for the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes not only highly skilled professions such as software developers, statisticians, mathematicians and marketing specialists, among others. It also includes complementary workers in fundamental occupations: cooks, medical assistants and personal care aides. Historically, many of them have been immigrants. It is naive to think that can change without any costs.
America without its immigrants and their children — many of whom are today on the front lines of the battle against this pandemic — would likely be in a much worse position than it is now. The thought that America without immigrants would be on a faster path to economic recovery is absurd and a very dangerous myth to propagate.