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Economic Implications of the RAISE Act

October 13, 2017
On Wednesday, August 2, President Trump endorsed a piece of legislation authored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would radically change immigration policy in the United States. [1] Known as the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy) Act, the goal of the bill is, in the words of the President, to “not only restore [America’s] competitive edge in the 21st century”, but to also “restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens.” [2] [3]

By Adam Chernew

More specifically, the legislation is being pitched as a way to boost pay for American workers by protecting them from competition from immigrants, and includes two key provisions to do so. [2] First, in deciding whom to admit to the U.S., the bill would give far more weight to prospective immigrants’ skills rather than their ties to family members already in the country. Moreover, this bill would also cut in half the number of green cards issued annually from 1 million to 500,000 over course of the next decade. [4] Although these provisions do overlap to a degree, it is worth considering their economic impacts separately.

Currently, the American immigration system is primarily family-based. [4] The U.S. issues about 1 million green cards annually, and roughly sixty-five percent of them are allocated to individuals who have a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. [5] As previously eluded to, however, the RAISE Act would change this by instead emphasizing applicants’ skills over their family ties. Specifically, the RAISE Act would eliminate visa preferences for extended family and grown adult family members of U.S. residents, while simultaneously establishing a point system for granting visas that gives prospective immigrants credit for education, English-language ability, and “entrepreneurial initiative” amongst other factors. [6]

Such a shift in immigrant prioritization has been criticized on both moral and economic grounds. As a moral issue, former Deputy Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, described this merit-based approach as un-American, and CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta suggested that the provision violates the Statute of Liberty’s promise that the U.S. will welcome “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” [7] [8] Economically, critics have suggested that a merit-based system prioritizing high-skilled workers could harm industries that rely on low-skilled immigrant labor (such as ranching) by raising their labor costs, which would in turn lead to higher prices for consumers. [9] That being said, a merit-based immigration approach has been shown to yield some economic benefits. For instance, evidence from Canada (which utilizes, although not exclusively, a point system) shows that immigrants arriving through the points system have higher education, employment rates and earnings than immigrants admitted through other channels and are therefore likely to make higher net contributions to the government (though there is no direct evidence linking immigration selection criteria and government contributions). [10] Likewise, Serge Shikher of the U.S. International Trade Commission has found that countries with a strong flow of highly educated labor (often facilitated through a merit-based system) tend to have more productive economies. [11] Thus, while some may consider prioritizing skills over family ties immoral, the economic impact of such a policy shift would likely be mixed. As is the case with many economic policy decisions, there are important tradeoffs to consider.  

Image: Graph of lawful permanent residents admitted to the United States each year between 1990 and 2015. Source: United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics.

Image: Graph of lawful permanent residents admitted to the United States each year between 1990 and 2015.

Source: United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics.

When it comes to the economic impact of the RAISE Act’s other main provision, however, there is far more consensus. Almost all economists agree that halving the number of green cards issued annually over the course of the next decade is a bad idea. For example, arguing that “the only way to meaningfully increase U.S. economic growth on a sustained basis anytime soon is to increase immigration”, Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi called the bill’s effort to cut legal immigration a grave mistake. [12] More to the point, in April, over 1,400 economists from across the political spectrum sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders extolling the economic benefits of legal immigration and urging them not to cut it. [13] In defending their argument, they cited immigrants’ high rates of entrepreneurship. [14] which is critical at a time when Americans are starting fewer companies, [15] and highlighted the need to bring new workers to the U.S. to fill the employment holes left by retiring baby boomers. [15] In fact, the irony of cutting immigration in half over the course of the next decade is that it would likely prevent the U.S. from achieving 3 percent economic growth annually, a promise that President Trump has made repeatedly. [16] Hence, while moving toward a merit-based immigration system may provide certain economic advantages to the U.S., the same cannot be said for halving the number of immigrants admitted to the U.S. on an annual basis. Put simply, enacting this provision would be a major step backward for the American economy.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


[1] Nakamura, David. “Trump, GOP Senators Introduce Bill to Slash Legal Immigration Levels.” Washington Post (Washington, DC), August 3, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/08/02/trump-gop-senators-to-introduce-bill-to-slash-legal-immigration-levels/?utm_term=.b5fc3c40452a.

[2] Rabbitt, Caroline. “Cotton and Perdue Introduce the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act.” News release. August 2, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=765

[3] White House. “Remarks by President Trump, Senator Tom Cotton, and Senator David Perdue on the RAISE Act and Green Card Reform.” whitehouse.gov. Last modified August 2, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/02/remarks-president-trump-senator-tom-cotton-and-senator-david-perdue

[4] Casselman, Ben, and Michelle Cheng. “Trump’s Plan to Cut Legal Immigration Could Hurt the Economy.” fivethirtyeight.com. Last modified August 4, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trumps-plan-to-cut-legal-immigration-could-hurt-the-economy/.

[5] Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents: 2015. By Ryan Baugh and Katherine Witsman. March 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Lawful_Permanent_Residents_2015.pdf

[6] Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), S. Doc. No. 115, 1st Sess., at 1 (2017). Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.cotton.senate.gov/files/documents/170802_New_RAISE_Act_Section_by_Section.pdf

[7] “Blinken: Merit-based System Is Un-American.” cnn.com. Last modified August 2, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/08/02/tony-blinken-trump-immigration-system-un-american-ath.cnn.

[8] Ryan, Josiah. “CNN’s Acosta, White House Aide Clash Over Immigration at Briefing.” Money.cnn.com. August 2, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017. http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/02/media/jim-acosta-stephen-miller-immigration/index.html.

[9] Alvarez, Priscilla. “Is a ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System a Good Idea?” theatlantic.com. Last modified March 11, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/trump-cotton-perdue-merit-based-immigration-system/518985/.

[10] Hunt, Jennifer. “Analysis: Would the U.S. Benefit from a Merit-Based Immigration System.” pbs.org. Last modified August 3, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/analysis-u-s-benefit-merit-based-immigration-system/

[11] Smith, Noah. “Canada Should Be Trump’s Model for Immigration.” www.bloomberg.com. Last modified November 17, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-11-17/canada-should-be-trump-s-model-for-immigration-reform.

[12] Long, Heather. “It’s a ‘Grave Mistake’ for Trump to Cut Legal Immigration in Half.” The Washington Post (Washington, DC), August 2, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/08/02/its-a-grave-mistake-for-trump-to-cut-legal-immigration-in-half/?utm_term=.a7624f5bbc1f

[13] New American Economy Action Fund. “An Open Letter from 1,470 Economists on Immigration.” newamericaneconomy.org. Last modified April 12, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017. http://www.newamericaneconomy.org/feature/an-open-letter-from-1470-economists-on-immigration/.

[14] Kerr, Sari Pekkala, and William R. Kerr. “Immigrants Play a Disproportionate Role in American Entrepreneurship.” Harvard Business Review, October 3, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://hbr.org/2016/10/immigrants-play-a-disproportionate-role-in-american-entrepreneurship

[15] Casselman, Ben. “Immigrants Are Keeping Young - and the Economy Growing.” fivethirtyeight.com. Last modified October 31, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/immigrants-are-keeping-america-young-and-the-economy-growing/

[16] Stewart, Emily. “Trump’s Immigration Cuts Could Foil His Promises for Economic Growth.” thestreet.com. Last modified August 6, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://www.thestreet.com/story/14254137/1/trump-s-immigration-cuts-could-damage-prospects-for-economic-growth.html.

“The Slow Death of American Entrepreneurship.” fivethirtyeight.com. Last modified May 15, 2014. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-slow-death-of-american-entrepreneurship/

Turner Broadcasting System. “Blinken: Merit-based System Is Un-American.” cnn.com. Last modified August 2, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/08/02/tony-blinken-trump-immigration-system-un-american-ath.cnn.

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    Community success is predicated on the support of education, housing, health, and safety. In other words, to make a community successful, one must look for solutions and programs that create cooperation across a variety of stakeholders. Complex problems originating from multiple sectors can most effectively be solved by using cross-sector collaborations.[1] Ultimately, these cross-sector collaborations and collective impact initiatives can yield better results than isolated impact approaches. The term “Collective Impact” was first coined by John Kania and Mark Kramer in an article published in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Collective impact is defined as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.”[2] The five conditions for successful collective impact initiatives are: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.
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    Scientists and researchers agree: ocean levels are rising as ice from the polar caps melts. Rising sea levels will affect major cities within the United States in the next half-century, many of which are already struggling with infrastructure problems. Rising tides are expected to put parts of South Florida, New Orleans, and many other metropolitan areas underwater, especially San Francisco. As tides already brush up against roads and freeways in the region, Bay Area infrastructure is prone to flooding, with two major arteries experiencing seasonal flooding: California State Route 37 (SR 37) in the North Bay between Vallejo and Sonoma County, and Interstate 80 in the East Bay north of Berkeley. Furthermore, San Francisco International Airport, surrounding areas in San Mateo County and Treasure Island are at risk.
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    The United States is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Innovation within our borders is accelerating at a break-neck pace, and companies are about to roll out a myriad of new tech over the next decade.[1] Research and development in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, drones, and fully-automated assembly lines have the potential to boost the productivity of the United States, improve the quality of living for countless Americans, and fundamentally change the way the global economy functions. However, this economic change will also fundamentally restructure our labor markets.
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    Accreditation provides a vital role in allocating federal student aid to postsecondary institutions of higher education (IHEs). As gatekeepers of the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) Title IV funds, accrediting agencies are expected to be “reliable authorities on the quality of education being offered.”[1] For this reason, the United States Department of Education’s (ED) use of accreditation facilitates its decision-making on which IHEs receive funds. However, with more than $14 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, the accreditation process has come under scrutiny.[2]
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  • Image: A Broadcom Chip from an Apple Device Source: Wikimedia Commons October 26
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  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>