Jun 05, 2014 - 3:30pm

High-Skilled Immigrants Create Jobs for U.S. Workers, Study Finds

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Attendees Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.
Attendees Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.

Immigration reform opponents claim that high-skilled immigrant workers take jobs away from Americans. A new study by the Partnership for a New American Economy shatters that claim and instead finds that more American workers would be employed in computer-related jobs, and their wages would have grown faster after the recession, if more high-skilled immigrants were allowed to work in the United States.

Vox’s Dara Lind explains what the study examined:

The study looks at how different cities fared in the [H-1B] visa lotteries in 2007 and 2008 — right before the financial crisis and most recent recession. In particular, it calculates how many H-1B applications for jobs in that city got rejected in the lottery over those two years — and how much it would have affected the size of the city's tech sector if there had been enough visas to let those immigrants come.

Chicago, for example, had an average of 7,410 visa applications that didn't get through the lottery in 2007 and 2008. But because there were already 89,503 people working in computer-related jobs in Chicago before that, the "shock" (negative impact) of not getting those visas was only 8.3% — still high, but not that high. Detroit, on the other hand, had about 5,386 visas rejected those years — for a tech sector that only had 40,000 people beforehand. So Detroit missed out on the chance to expand its computer workforce by 13.3%, just by not getting those visas approved.

After determining which cities had gotten relatively lucky in the visa lottery (by getting more visas approved, or having a larger tech sector already that made rejections less significant) and which cities had been unlucky, the study's authors looked at employment trends in the computer industry before 2007-2008, and then again during the recession.

Economists Giovanni Peri, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber  found that as many as 231,224 tech jobs for U.S.-born workers weren’t created because of H-1B visa rationing. “The total number of U.S.-born workers with computer-related jobs would have exceeded 2 million by 2010 with that additional employment,” they write.


Chart: Additional jobs created if there weren't H-1B denials in 2007 and 2008.
Source: Partnership for a New American Economy

In addition, H-1B visa rationing kept wages from rising faster. The report finds that U.S.-born, college-educated workers in computer-related fields missed out on as much as $3 billion in aggregate annual earnings.


Chart: Wage growth if there weren't H-1B denials in 2007 and 2008.
Source: Partnership for a New American Economy

Also, U.S.-born workers without bachelor’s degrees were especially hurt, because they often fill jobs supporting high-skilled workers. “By 2009-2010, U.S. metropolitan areas lacked as many as 188,582 computer-related jobs for U.S.-born workers without a college degree as a direct result of the large number of applications that were denied in the 2007 and 2008,” the report states.

The authors sum up their findings [emphasis mine]:

Cities whose employers faced large numbers of denials in the H-1B visa lotteries experienced considerably less job creation and wage growth for American-born computer workers in the two years that followed. Denying H-1B visas didn’t help the economies of America’s cities or their U.S.-born workers. Instead, it cost their tech sectors hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in missed wages.

This research reaffirms how immigrant workers don’t compete for jobs with Americans; they complement them. Contributions from immigrant workers (both high- and lower-skilled) grow the economy faster and produce more jobs for U.S.-born workers.

In April, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that 172,500 H-1B petitions were filed for 85,000 visas, the highest number ever recorded for H-1B demand. Based on this study, not raising the number of H-1B visas ends up hurting American workers.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.