How Republicans Can Start to Win on Immigration

Posted: Dec 13, 2012 4:23 PM
There has been no shortage of post-mortems after Barack Obama's sweeping victory in November's elections, but the dominant story line is that the Republican Party should focus more on how its message can empower minority groups and tailor their rhetoric toward how a GOP platform helps everyone, not just majority groups. A good example would be Mara Liasson's NPR story on the subject.

One of the major issues that various insurgent elements in the GOP has pushed for is immigration reform. President George W. Bush and 2008 GOP nominee John McCain made a major push for an immigration reform package in 2005 that was deemed unacceptable by more conservative members of the GOP.

House Republicans, however, have focused their efforts on less divisive reforms this time around: encouraging more legal high-skilled immigration. But now that Republicans have embraced a form of immigration reform that should be common sense, Democrats have gotten in the way.

As expected, the last great hope for immigration reform quickly died in the United States Senate, as the Democratic majority will likely follow through on a promise to kill the STEMS Jobs Act. Engineering-starved tech firms have become a casualty of partisan bickering over how to overhaul the entire immigration system, with both Democrats and Republicans refusing to allow more high-skilled immigrants without changes to low-skilled visas. In other words, congress will have to accomplish a great feat of compromise before there are more high skilled immigrants…so don’t hold your breath.

Democrats have called the GOP's provision to trade diversity visas for high-skilled immigration a kind of "poison pill," despite claims that they too would like more high-skilled immigration. What's clear is that, if both the GOP and the Democrats think that increased high-skilled immigration would be a good policy change, the Democrats' intransigence only helps to entrench a bad policy status quo.

Derek Khanna has a good essay in National Review today on the high-skill immigration problem and how instituting a market for the H-1B visas that are available for high-skill immigrants - an issue deeply personal for him, and one that he thinks the STEM Jobs Act is inadequate in dealing with.

We should greatly increase the number of H-1B visas and put them up for competitive bidding. There are many models for this. One is the spectrum auction, whereby telecommunications companies bid on government licenses to transmit signals over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Competitive bidding would enable the companies that value visas the most to pay for them. And it would help small and medium-sized businesses, which often have the most difficulty filing their paperwork on time and often lose out to big businesses in the competition for the few available visas. Competitive bidding for visas would mean a rational market governed by supply and demand. If as a society we want to “protect” Americans from foreign workers competing for jobs, then perhaps the best way to do that is to put a price-tag differential on the foreign workers.

Increased high-skilled immigration is almost universally supported by economists as a net gain for the American economy and all Americans. It's good that the GOP has started a push for this, but they could certainly go even further.