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CBO: Immigration reform could leave U.S. citizens better off

Some American citizens worry that the immigration reform bill Congress is considering will affect American jobs in industries from farming to technology companies. It is true that expandeding H-1B visas for high-tech and skilled workers and providing a path to citizenship, which Congress is considering, could allow thousands of immigrant workers into the country.

However, it is not necessarily the case that more immigrant workers would displace American laborers. Employers are more likely to invest in their businesses and expand with cheaper labor, leading to more jobs. The Congressional Budget Office recently issued a report that the immigration bill that passed the Senate would add up to six million workers to the U.S. economy by 2023 and three million more than that a decade later.

The CBO does acknonwledge that an influx of immigrant workers could depress wages temporarily. The CBO expects that by 2023, should a reform bill pass to the one that is being considered, average American wages would decrease by 0.1 percent. However, that decline would be temporary, and by 2033 the influx of immigrants would increase wages by 0.5 percent.

Economists at the University of California, Davis, and Colgate University also found that U.S. citizens in states with more uneducated immigrants shift towards communication and service industries, which tend to pay more, rather than manual and physical labor. 

For example, in many American restaurants, owners can only operate successfully with cheap labor in kitchens filled with undocumented workers. This not only benefits owners but servers, maitre d' and bartenders as well. However, the CBO notes that highly skilled workers would face more competetion and the least educated Americans would likely suffer temporary wage lessening. On average, though, American jobs would pay more.

Source: The New York Times, "Immigration and the Labor Market," Eduardo Porter, June 25, 2013

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