Senate Testimony

I testified this morning before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest. It’s something I haven’t done in years, but I have to admit that it was fun. Here is a copy of my written testimony.

The Metro was out of service today and it was a beautiful spring morning. I figured that it wasn’t worth getting stuck in traffic so I decided to walk the three miles from the hotel to Capitol Hill. During the walk, I was trying to think of a way where I could impress on the people in that room how the labor market works.

And the idea came to me that instead of talking about an H-1B program that lets in 65,000 high-tech workers (workers that most people attending those hearings have little in common with), we should instead think about an A-1B program that lets in 65,000 attorneys. These attorneys would have passed some sort of certification exam prepared by the American Bar Association. The test could be very, very hard, but I bet that Kaplan-like test centers would magically spring up all over the world to teach the requisite skills to would-be lawyers and that many potential lawyers would quickly join the queue.

What do you think would happen to the labor market for attorneys in the US? One doesn’t need professional training in economics to realize that attorneys would face an even harder time getting jobs. And that law firms and potential consumers would benefit because we could all hire legal services at much cheaper rates. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hire a tax attorney to do our taxes next month at cut-rate prices?

As I was flying back to Boston, it occurred to me that this is not such a crazy proposal after all. In fact, why not attach the proposal to create an A-1B program every time someone introduces legislation to increase the H-1B cap? I would love to hear the reactions from the usual suspects–e.g., the American Immigration Lawyers Association–to the A-1B program. Would it shock anyone if this was the first “more immigrants, please” proposal that they would reject outright? Maybe then we could have a real debate about the costs and benefits of the H-1B program.

UPDATE: Minutes after I put up the post, I learned from a friend that Ted Cruz had a campaign ad about what the immigration debate would look like if the newcomers were lawyers, bankers, etc. Here it is:

I really do think it would be a lot of fun to follow the debate if this type of proposal was inserted into every single bill that proposed expanding a particular type of immigration. I would love to watch the logical contortions required to explain why programmers are good, but lawyers are not.

High-Skill Immigration: The H-1B Program

In previous posts (here and here), I argued that we should care about high-skill immigration because of the possibility that high-skill immigrants import knowledge and capabilities that “rub off” on the rest of us, thereby increasing our productivity. I also showed that there is evidence for such spillovers in the “experimental” context (such as the sudden dismissal of renowned Jewish scientists by the Nazi regime), but the evidence is restricted to cases where the immigrants have exceptionally high skills, where there is close personal contact between the exceptional immigrants and the native workers, and where the number of high-skill immigrants is sufficiently small relative to the market.

Obviously, such flows of truly exceptional immigrants are rare. The political argument for high-skill immigration is instead presented in the context of something like the H-1B visa program, which allows employers to import 65,000 (mostly) high-tech workers annually. In the H-1B context, “high skills” typically mean that the immigrant has at least a college degree.

Continue reading “High-Skill Immigration: The H-1B Program”