News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Thoughts on immigration

An aging American workforce, along with a declining U.S. birthrate, makes the U.S. economy increasingly dependent on foreign-born workers to bridge the employment-labor gap and to finance programs such as Social Security.

In 2006, foreign-born workers made up 15.3 percent of the labor market, but by 2023, the share of foreign-born workers in the labor market had increased to 18.6 percent.

One of the attractions of employing foreign-born workers is that they are willing to occupy jobs often not desired by native-born Americans.

In 2022, foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations; natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations.

The U.S. economy needs foreign-born workers, but an immigration system last updated in 1990, makes it difficult to supply the necessary labor force:

“Of roughly 1.1 million green cards for permanent residence issued in a normal year, just 140,000 are for employment-based immigrants. Of those, about half are issued to spouses and minor children of those workers. Employment-based green cards are primarily reserved for workers with college or graduate degrees, with less than 10,000 slots available for jobs with low training requirements.”

When native-born workers are not interested in filling jobs with low training requirements and foreign-born workers are unavailable due to caps imposed on employment-based visas, employers may choose to employ unauthorized immigrants.

Unauthorized immigrants, who make up roughly 22 percent of the foreign-born labor force, are employed by “…the small and medium businesses that dot your community who have a very hard time finding talent, who don’t have the resources to pay for expensive immigration lawyers or navigate the complicated U.S. immigration system.” — Zeke Hernandez

In 2019, Oregon had an estimated 108,000 unauthorized immigrants, 70 percent of whom were employed. They worked in accommodation and food service, arts, entertainment, recreation (19 percent); agriculture (16 percent); manufacturing (14 percent); construction (12 percent); professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management (12 percent).

The majority of unauthorized immigrants living in Oregon have strong ties to their community, with sixty-nine percent having lived in Oregon for 10 or more years.

Despite being of prime working age, 58 percent of unauthorized immigrant workers in Oregon earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. “Low wage” immigrant workers are more likely to be stuck in a cycle of poverty due to limited education and limited English language proficiency.

The Migration Policy Institute recently proposed a new employment-based immigration system that relies upon “bridge visas.”

Under a bridge visa system, employers would sponsor foreign-born workers for available positions. A panel of experts would set caps on the number of bridge visas available for different industries based on current demand, and in anticipation of how growth in strategic sectors might drive future economic growth.

A foreign-born worker who is successfully employed during an initial three-year bridge visa would qualify for a three-year extension. Once the extension was approved, a foreign-born worker could choose to seek employment with a different employer, and they could also self-sponsor their application for permanent U.S. residence.

Bridge visas would reduce the “brain drain” that occurs when talented immigrants are unable to renew temporary work visas.

Under the bridge visa system, native-born workers would be given employment preference and prevailing wages would be paid.

Under the current immigration system:

• The small and medium sized businesses who employ unauthorized immigrants face the constant threat of being fined for violating U.S. immigration law, and being deprived of their labor force.

• Despite their contributions to the U.S. economy, unauthorized immigrants face the constant threat of deportation and separation from family members.

• Unauthorized immigrants have fewer protections against unscrupulous employers.

• Employers don’t withhold taxes when workers are “paid under the table,” so unauthorized immigrants can’t support local, state, and federal programs.

• Low wage workers may be stuck in a cycle of poverty.

• Federal resources are expended to find and deport unauthorized immigrants to the U.S., even though we really need their labor.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that as of December 2023 there were more than 9 million job openings compared to 6.3 million unemployed workers. If employers were allowed to sponsor unauthorized immigrants for a bridge visa, this would help to close the employment-labor gap and overcome limitations of the current immigration system.

A streamlined bridge visa system would also enable employers to consider hiring immigrants arriving at our southern border. Immigrants interested in obtaining a bridge visa would be more likely to seek authorized entry into the United States.


Reader Comments(1)

Citizenstacy writes:

I have much respect for those that come here to become a citizen and spend those long 5 years with a sponsor staying out of trouble learning our language and the pride they must have standing up when they become a naturalized citizen is something that the legal aliens are taking away from those that do it the right way. Because your first act of coming over here illegal constitutes committing a crime, as a crime is punishable as it is against the law. Our government is spending billions of dollars to protect other countries borders and it won't do the same with our own borders That's despicabl

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