William & Mary

Professor from the Jefferson Program in Public Policy testifies in Congress

As the House and Senate debate the future of U.S.immigration policy, Research Professor Harriet Duleep of W&M’s  Jefferson Program in Public Policy was asked to testify in front of the House Subcommittee on Immigration.  Professor Harriet Duleep

A recent proposal being debated in both the House and Senate would decrease family-based immigrant admissions.  Though justified on humanitarian grounds, family-based immigration is often considered detrimental to the U.S. economy. The Committee’s Chair asked Professor Duleep to discuss in her testimony whether family-based immigrants confer any economic benefits to the U.S. economy.

Duleep presented a variety of evidence showing that a key characteristic of family-based immigrants is a high propensity to invest in human capital.  Because of this high propensity to invest in human capital, Duleepargued that kinship-based immigrants may provide the U.S. economy a highly malleable resource that promotes a vibrant economy in the long run.

Family-based immigration policies also appear to nurture immigrant entrepreneurship. Duleep's empirical work reveals a strong relationship between the propensity of individual immigrants to be self-employed and the percent of their cohort that gained admission through the siblings’ admission category. For Asian and Hispanic immigrants, the positive effect of siblings on immigrant self employment dwarfs the impact of all other variables.

Professor Duleep pointed out that historically, immigrant groups that were permanently attached to the U.S. showed greater intergenerational progress in educational attainment than groups who were less attached. From this perspective, policies that encourage permanent immigration, such as kinship admissions, should be encouraged.

Duleep further noted that no empirical evidence suggested an adverse impact of family admitted immigrants on the earnings of U.S. natives. Dividing by admission status, family-preference immigrants have a statistically significant positive effect on the earnings and employment of U.S.-born whites and on the earnings of U.S.-born blacks. 

Duleep concluded her testimony by noting that family visas are an important complement to high skilled visas and only compete if they are placed under the same arbitrary cap. High skilled immigrants have families too. By making the U.S. a less attractive destination for high-skilled immigrants, efforts to restrict family admissions may yield unintended outcomes.  She suggested that if we want to increase the education level of entering immigrants that rather than increasing occupational admissions, a more effective approach would be to give points for both kinship ties and educational level both of which appear to yield economic benefits for immigrant economic assimilation and a dynamic economy.