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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.

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He added that failing to let many of them stay in America after they graduate is “not how you grow new industries in America.”

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Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform with three core parts: strengthening borders, creating a path toward green cards and possible citizenship for 11 million immigrants now in the US illegally, and bringing the system of legal immigration – including for high-skill applicants – “into the 21st century.”

The president’s blueprint aligns in some important ways with the framework unveiled by the bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Charles Schumer (D) of New York and John McCain (R) of Arizona.

The second of four parts in their plan is “attracting the world’s best and brightest” by overhauling the system for legal immigration. “Our immigration proposal will award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university,” their framework says.

Although embraced by many economists, this idea remains controversial in the public eye – as are many facets of immigration reform. Granting access to trained foreign workers may appear to be a direct threat to US workers, at a time when legions of native-born college grads are having trouble finding jobs in their fields of study.

The jobs recovery since the recession of 2007 to 2009 has been faster for immigrants than for native-born workers, the Pew Research Hispanic Center found last year. The center said the pace of immigrant job growth was in line with the growth in the group’s working-age populations.

But the argument in favor of a welcoming stance, voiced by Obama, is that immigrants historically have made a large contribution to entrepreneurial job creation. He said that in recent years 1 in 4 new high-tech firms and small businesses have been founded by immigrants.

The message: More green cards and citizenship approvals should translate into more jobs.

Obama added that labor leaders, as well as business groups, are rallying behind the idea of immigration reform.

More broadly, many economists argue that it’s inaccurate to view immigrants as taking jobs from native-born workers. The newcomers are a supply of new labor, but they also bring demand for new goods and services.

A 2009 United Nations report, for example, argued that “migrants boost economic output, at little or no cost to locals.”

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