Thursday, May 24, 2007

Immigration, skills, and competition

Tom Friedman's Wednesday column expressed the view that Ph.D graduates and other highly educated immigrants on student visas should automatically get green cards.

It seems easy to agree with this view, but the naturalization of high-skill immigrants has an economic impact with winners and losers, just like immigration consisting of low-skill workers.

Why is it easier to agree with Friedman? The people who compete with immigrants who have Ph.D's are natives with Ph.D's. As a member of the latter group, I can tell you that there are many foreign-born professors with whom I am "competing."

But I'm in favor of immigration, and I think granting citizenship to more Ph.D recipients would be a good thing. Is that because I have certain political views or come from a particular background, or is it because I think my well-being is more insulated from competition in the labor market?

It seems to me that a key stumbling block impeding immigration reform must be the exposure to the downside of labor market risk --- losing your job --- that is disproportionately felt by domestic unskilled workers.