Courtesy Reuters

COMING TO AMERICA

By Margaret A. Catillaz

To the Editor:

James Goldsborough wrongly asserts that "skilled immigrants are driving down wages for America's skilled labor force and diverting resources from the education of Americans" ("Out-of-Control Immigration," September/October 2000). The latest U.S. Department of Commerce survey of the digital economy finds that the average wage of skilled high-tech workers was 85 percent higher than the overall private-sector average. Since 1992, wages of high-tech workers have grown 5.8 percent, while private-sector wages have grown only 3.6 percent. Moreover, the law governing h-1b visas (temporary permits for skilled workers) requires employers to pay foreign professionals the same wages and benefits that they pay U.S. workers in similar positions. Two recently signed laws increased the cap on h-1b visas and required sponsoring employers to pay a $1,000 fee for each h-1b petition they file. This money goes toward job training; scholarships for low-income students pursuing degrees in mathematics, engineering, or computer science; and technical-skills programs for workers.

The current economic growth has been fueled largely by dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency. These increases, in turn, have stemmed from advances in high technology and the ways that U.S. businesses employ this technology. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has stated that he sees "no reason that productivity growth cannot remain elevated."

What is of concern is the current worker shortage and the coming retirement of the baby boomers. But there is a solution to this potential demographic crisis: immigration. As demographic economist Richard Judy put it in his testimony before the House of Representatives, "most of the demographic realities ... are immutable except, perhaps in the very long run. Even then, however, neither birth rates nor death rates are responsive to policy change. Among the fundamental drivers of demographic change, only immigration policy is amenable to manipulation by government policymakers."

Judy's comments have been echoed by Greenspan himself, who on more than one occasion has stated that one way to solve the worker shortage (and presumably the forthcoming disparity between workers and retirees) would be to "open up our immigration rolls significantly." He also has stated that this demographic crisis will continue "unless immigration is uncapped."

MARGARET A. CATILLAZ

President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

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