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Immigration reform: a bid to attract workers who will boost the economy (+video)

Immigration reform is foremost a social issue, but it has big economic implications. Exhibit A is a measure that, looking forward, aims to attract immigrants whose skills mesh with the US needs.

By Staff writer / January 29, 2013

President Obama shakes hands after speaking about immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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As a bipartisan group of US senators and President Obama lead a push to enact sweeping immigration reform this year, they are boosting the idea with a rationale that is economic as well as social.

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Reform isn’t just about reuniting families, better securing the border, or dealing pragmatically with immigrants who have been in the country for years but lack legal status, they say. It’s also, importantly, about helping the US economy continue to prosper in the years ahead.

It’s an argument that many economists support. 

In fact, some policy experts say that welcoming more immigrants with advanced degrees ranks high on the list of ways to boost long-term job creation.

"Improving the system regulating high-skilled immigration needs to be a key focus of any immigration reform bill," economist Robert Atkinson said Tuesday, in a statement released by the research group he heads, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington. "We cannot continue to fall behind other nations in attracting the highly skilled individuals to our shores.”

Separately from the broad immigration-reform proposals, a bipartisan group of senators led by Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota introduced an Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 bill Tuesday, designed to boost the number of high-skill foreign workers.

This bill seeks to grant green cards to more holders of advanced science and engineering degrees. It would also nearly double the limit on so-called H-1B visas, allowing some 115,000 foreigners to hold jobs at US high-tech firms – a cap that would adjust up or down based on economic conditions. Critics of the H-1B program see it as a gift of lower-wage labor to private industry, and say US workers could do those jobs.

 Neither Mr. Obama nor the so-called “gang of eight” senators has crafted a detailed legislative proposal for more comprehensive reform. But both call for extending an immigration welcome mat to more highly trained people from other nations.

Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here,” the president told an audience in at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now, in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea, their Intel or Instagram, into a big business.”

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