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Tyler Cowen asks, “Should immigration be family based?” (link). I have mentioned before that the proposed senate comprehensive immigration reform bill will change immigration from family based to skill based immigration. I was and continue to be ambivalent about this change.

From a nationalistic perspective, skilled immigrants are desirable will impart more benefits than unskilled immigrants on the US, but physical proximity to family members also has value, although those benefits will accrue mainly to the immigrants instead of the country at large.

My current feeling is that while skill based immigration will give extra economic benefits, family based immigration could give social benefits and it certainly improves the welfare of immigrants to be able to move their family close to them, so immigration policy should try to recognize the value in both family ties and in skills. The proposed point system does incorporate extended family ties to a small extent (10% of the points) (link to point system and discussion), but the weighting seems low to me.

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The Whitehouse has announced that they, Senate Democrats and Republicans have negotiated a comprehensive immigration reform proposal (link). The proposal is considerably better than I expected; it includes a lot of the policy changes that the Cato institute has called for (link). The proposal has four zmain parts: more funding for border security, the creation of a temporary worker program, the creation of a path to legality for illegal immigrants currently in the country, and an increase in the number of several visa types. The proposal has been introduced in the Senate as the STRIVE Act (link to summary).

The temporary worker program is a good idea; first, because it eases restrictions on immigration, putting labor into the set of markets being liberalized, and second because it reflects the nature of immigration from Mexico; the majority of immigrants from Mexico return after some time. Most Mexican immigrants come to work for a relatively short time and then go back to their home country. Harsh border enforcement without a legal avenue for such a work pattern means that immigrants who do make it into the country illegally, tend to stay. Even so, the proposal does include a path to citizenship for temporary workers.

The proposal does not tie temporary work visas to a specific employer which is important because visa tying would give employers leverage over temporary workers and undoubtedly lead to abuses. Guest workers must be free to fully participate in the labor market. The abuses associated with the, guest-worker like, Bracero program which resulted largely from tying visas to employers eventually lead to the demise of the program.

Providing a path to legalization for the 12 million or so of illegal immigrants already in the nited States will also have several positive effects. First, it will stop a lot of resources from being wasted as they are now. U.S. immigration officials will stop using resources to find and deport productive members of society, and currently illegal immigrants will stop using resources to evade those officials. Second, currently illegal immigrants will find it much easier to travel back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. to see their families, which will undoubtedly improve their quality of life. Third, legalization will eliminate the ability of employers to threaten immigrant employees with deportation. Eliminating that threat will improve working conditions and pay for immigrants by improving their bargaining position.

I am somewhat concerned about some of the details of the proposal. President Bush stated that the proposal includes making English the official language of the United States. I don’t think making it official will really change much, but doing so seems unnecessary and makes me very uncomfortable. The proposal will also change the criteria for immigration from family based to skill based; I am not sure how I feel about this.

Overall, this proposal seems to be very good, and would dramatically improve our immigration policy. I have written before (link) about the need to liberalize immigration policy in order to be intellectually honest about pushing for other trade liberalization, and this is a step in that direction; visa cap increases, amnesty for current illegal immigrants and the temporary worker program all reduce migration restrictions. I hope that both the House and Senate enact a plan similar to this.


In the Dallas, TX suburb Farmers Branch, the city council become the first in the nation to pass an ordinance to require renters to prove their legal national status (link). The key phrase from the article:

[City councilman] O’Hare contends the city’s economy and quality of life will improve if illegal immigrants are kept out.

O’Hare means the economy and quality of life of current residents, obviously, not the economy and quality of life of business owners or those immigrants. Farmers Branch residents are trying to use their superior organization to improve their position, in terms of rent and wages, at the expense of business owners and illegal immigrants. By restricting who can live in their area, residents keep housing demand and labor supply in their favor, keeping local rents down and local wages up. Restricting and monitoring immigration might be a national security issue, but small suburbs have no business setting immigration policy, especially no business restricting intra-national immigration.