Immigrants and America

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Across the globe, every day people make one of the hardest decisions imaginable: to leave their homes, often forever. They move to find better opportunities, safer lives or a new place to call home. Some go as far as the next village or city, but many go further still – to another country. This is called immigration and is a fundamental feature of our globalized world.

The vast majority of immigrants come to their new countries legally, through a rigorous vetting process that includes extensive background checks and in-person interviews. They become lawful residents and, in time, citizens. But current law confines millions of people to a life in the shadows, without rights to be fully economically engaged or to receive vital social protections. This treatment inflicts harm on unauthorized immigrants and their families, and it undermines the economic and social contributions of the entire population.

In the United States, immigration is a major contributor to the country’s economy and culture. Each year, nearly 1 million people move to the United States for work or to join family members. Most of these people are legal permanent residents, but some are not — including migrants who entered the country without a visa and those granted temporary protected status or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

While public opinion surveys show that the general public is generally supportive of immigration, there is considerable variation in views about specific types of migration. A recent briefing by the Migration Observatory found that those who want to see immigration reduced tend to focus on asylum seekers, low-skilled workers, or extended family members who have legal status.

Immigrants make a significant contribution to the economy, increasing both the size of the labor force and the potential productivity of businesses. They are also an important source of innovation, with research finding that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree boosts patents per capita by 9 percent to 18 percent.

Although the country has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants, public policy is not always well-adapted to changing circumstances. In particular, the nation faces a pressing need to address its rapidly growing population of unauthorized immigrants.

A government advisory panel will publish its final report this fall, which will examine how the public and private sector can better support a vibrant immigrant community and foster integration that strengthens America’s economic and civic fabric. The panel is tasked with summarizing what is known about the relationship between immigrant integration and the economy, and making recommendations for future policies that can help ensure a successful path forward. The panel is part of a larger National Academies project that will publish a comprehensive report on the impacts of immigration. More information about both is available here.