What economists think about admitting highly skilled immigrants

Credit: Glen Gyssler

Chelsea Vail | Sep 20, 2016

Sections Economics

Collections Immigration IGM Poll

In the 2016 US presidential campaign, immigration has reaffirmed its status as one of the most prominent wedge issues in American politics. More often than not, the campaign-trail conversation has focused on illegal immigration—but the candidates disagree on policies for legal immigration, too. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has proposed increasing the number of immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields by “stapling” green cards to their PhDs. Her plan may sound familiar to political observers—both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have suggested similar policies. By contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump wants to modify the H-1B visa program to increase the prevailing wage for foreign workers, while also requiring companies to hire American workers first.

What do economists anticipate would happen if US companies were allowed to hire more highly skilled immigrants? Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets asked its expert panel how an increase in immigrants with advanced STEM degrees would affect American wages in the short run, and per capita income in the long run. Nearly all agreed that over time, welcoming these elite foreign workers would pay off. 

Larry Samuelson, Yale
“One would expect a temporary decrease in the premium, but it is not obvious that the effect would be significant or long-lasting.”
Response: Agree

Darrell Duffie, Stanford
“The short-run story is supply-versus-demand. In the long run, high-skill immigration could perhaps increase demand for high-skill workers.”
Response: Agree

Markus Brunnermeier, Princeton
“Highly skilled researchers create positive spillovers and make the overall environment more productive, which can boost other skilled workers.”
Response: Uncertain

Kenneth Judd, Stanford
“Any effect would be tiny at any politically feasible level of such immigration.”
Response: Disagree


Steve KaplanChicago Booth
“More highly skilled immigrants here, more jobs here, more income here, generate more jobs in services and more innovation.”
Response: Strongly agree

Larry Samuelson, Yale
“The ability to bring the best and brightest from throughout the world to our economy is a great resource.”
Response: Strongly agree

Austan Goolsbee, Chicago Booth
“See under ‘History, American.’”
Response: Strongly agree

David Autor, MIT
“Much US wealth comes from innovation, and foreign-born STEM workers are a huge contributor to that effort.”
Response: Agree

José Scheinkman, Princeton
“Disclosure: I benefited from a policy that allowed universities to hire foreign nationals with advanced degrees to their faculty.”
Response: Agree