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Opinion

America needs better-skilled, not fewer, immigrants

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Education,Michael Barone,Immigration

The United States attracts more immigrants than any other nation in the world. But, contrary to what many Americans may think, the rate of immigration to the United States as compared to preexisting population is substantially lower than many nations. That's the message of these numbers, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the years 2001-2010, in forbes.com. The U.S. averaged 1,050,000 immigrants per year, well ahead of Germany (604,000), Spain (591,000, a number that must be much lower now because of Spain's dreadful economy), the United Kingdom (397,000) and Japan and Italy (346,000 each).

But in immigrant flow as a percentage of population, the United States ranks not number 1 but number 23, with 0.4 percent. That’s half the rate of our Anglosphere cousins Australia and Canada (0.8 percent). It’s also far less than the rate at the peak year of the Ellis Island immigration, 1907 (1.5 percent). That year immigration to an America of 87 million was 1,285,000—higher in absolute numbers and almost four times as high as a percentage of population as a century ago.

I have noted before that Canada and Australia, with twice our immigration rates, nevertheless outscore the United States on the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment tests. There is an obvious policy lesson here. As I wrote:

The U.S. should take a lesson from its Anglosphere cousins Australia and Canada, which both have higher immigration proportionate to population and which both outscored the U.S. in literacy, numeracy and high-tech problem solving in the OECD survey.

Australia and Canada allocate large shares of their immigration flow by point systems, which give credit for educational achievement and marketable skills. They do not necessarily tie high-skill immigrants to a single petitioning employer, as H-1B visas do in the U.S.

Both countries are attracting high-skill immigrants, especially from China and India, and both have had better performing economies than the U.S. does.

Making a concerted effort to attract high-skill immigrants should be a no-brainer for America.

We don’t need fewer immigrants. We need more high-skill immigrants.

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