The Senate could soon vote to give millions of Americans their biggest pay-raise in decades.
The proposal in question isn’t a minimum wage hike or a tax cut. Rather, it’s a bill that would reduce legal immigration by half. The reform would turbo-charge wage growth and open up new job opportunities for working-class Americans.
Senator Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act would reduce family-sponsored visas by eliminating categories that allow for the immigration of extended family members. In plain terms, most recent immigrants would no longer be able to secure green cards granting lifetime residency and work privileges for their siblings or adult children. They would still be able to bring over their minor children and spouses, of course.
The proposed law would also cap refugee admittances at a compassionate but sustainable 50,000 per year -- roughly the average annual intake from 2001-2010. Additionally, it would end the “visa lottery” -- a fraud-plagued program that awards green cards at random to over 50,000 lucky foreigners each year.
Analysts predict that these changes will reduce legal immigration by 40 percent the first year and 50 percent over a decade.
Why is this a good thing for American workers? Simple. Most of the people who arrive on family-sponsored, refugee, and lottery visas have limited skill-sets. Nearly 30 percent of foreign-born adults lack a high-school degree compared to just 9 percent of native-born Americans.
As a result, these new arrivals -- most of whom are law-abiding and hardworking -- gravitate to blue collar or service-sector jobs. According to the latest figures from the Department of Homeland Security, less than 13 percent of immigrants with family-sponsored visas work in management or professional occupations.
Offshoring and automation have wiped out millions of low and medium-wage jobs. Almost two million Americans have been out of work for six months or more. Importing hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers to compete with these struggling Americans only holds down wages.
When a country increases the size of a skill group by 10 percent through immigration, wages fall by about 4 percent for that skill group. Wages have been stagnant, especially for low-skill workers, for decades. Hourly wages have scarcely budged since the 1960s once inflation is accounted for.
America should not bring in more low-skilled foreigners when its own lesser-skilled workers cannot find decent jobs. This isn’t about hostility to immigrants. It’s about a deep concern for the citizens of our own country who struggle to make ends meet but who can make little headway in a bulging labor market.
The RAISE Act wouldn’t completely solve this over-supply of low-skilled labor. The proposed law doesn’t address illegal immigration at all. Nor would it eliminate the tens of thousands of temporary, nonagricultural work visas given to foreigners who toil as line cooks, construction workers, and housekeeping staff -- jobs that unemployed Americans would thrive in.
Due to an overabundance of laborers, working-class Americans haven’t seen a substantial pay bump in decades. It’s time for a RAISE.
Deena Flinchum is an IT worker who was employed by the AFL-CIO for 25 years before retiring. She is now a community volunteer in southwest Virginia.
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