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Immigration and the American Worker

April 1, 2013
By George Borjas

In this Backgrounder, Borjas finds that at current levels of around one million immigrants per year, immigration makes the U.S.

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In this Backgrounder, Borjas finds that at current levels of around one million immigrants per year, immigration makes the U.S. economy (GDP) significantly larger, with almost all of this increase in GDP accruing to the immigrants themselves as a payment for their labor services.

For American workers, immigration is primarily a redistributive policy. Economic theory predicts that immigration will redistribute income by lowering the wages of competing American workers and increasing the wages of complementary American workers as well as profits for business owners and other “users” of immigrant labor. Although the overall net impact on the native-born is small, the loss or gain for particular groups of the population can be substantial.

The best empirical research that tries to examine what has actually happened in the U.S. labor market aligns well with economy theory: An increase in the number of workers leads to lower wages. This report focuses on the labor market impact of immigration. Immigration also has a fiscal impact — taxes paid by immigrants minus the costs they create for government. The fiscal impact is a separate question from the labor market impact. This report does not address the size of the fiscal impact.

 

 


George J. Borjas has been described by both Business Week and the Wall Street Journal as “America’s leading immigration economist”. He is the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the recipient of the 2011 IZA Prize in Labor Economics. Professor Borjas is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a Research Fellow at IZA. Professor Borjas is the author of several books, including Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy (Princeton University Press, 1999), and the widely used textbook Labor Economics(McGraw-Hill, 2012), now in its sixth edition. He has published over125 articles in books and scholarly journals. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in 1975.