Charles Breiterman's picture


  by  Charles Breiterman

President-elect Obama has requested that Congress have a fiscal stimulus package waiting on his desk for his signature when he takes office on January 20. The stimulus is projected to be up to $700 billion with the aim of creating 2.5 million jobs over 2 years. That is $280,000 per job, or $140 billion per each 500,000 jobs created.

But we can “create” 2.5 million jobs with the stroke of a pen. The United States is admitting 1.65 million new foreign workers this year, under current law. That doesn’t count the people who enter illegally. If we just cut that legal number to 421,500 new foreign workers per year for a two year period, we could “create” the same 2.5 million jobs at very little cost to the taxpayer. We would bring in 1.25 million fewer foreign workers each year, resulting in 2.5 million more jobs potentially open to Americans over the two years.


744,531 Green cards granted to people of working age (20-64)1
912,735 Employment Authorizations issued by U.S. federal government2
1,657,266 New foreign workers added to the U.S.A. annually

1The Department of Homeland Security reports in its 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 8, that the United States granted Green Cards to 744,531 people between the ages of 20-64. These are working age with full rights to hold a job, although not all do. This number does not include the considerable number of immigrants under 20 and over 64 who work. The 2007 number is similar to numbers admitted during recent years. There is no indication that the number was significantly different in 2008.

2The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, reports that it issued 912,735 new Employment Authorization Documents during the FY 2007-2008 fiscal year that ended September 30, 2008. These work permits are issued to nonimmigrants--aliens authorized to live in the United States on a temporary basis--who either are admitted specifically to fill a U.S. job (e.g., H-1B high tech workers) or are admitted for some non-work-related purpose, but are authorized to work during their stay here (e.g., certain foreign students and spouses of temporary workers).

And, if the Obama administration would continue the recent enforcement of laws against illegal immigration by the Bush Administration, it would open up even more jobs in our recessionary economy for American citizens and those lawfully present.

One of the main advantages of a temporary immigration cut is the immediacy of the positive impact on employment. The Washington Post reports that less than $68 billion worth of infrastructure projects can be ready to start within the next six months. “Even with projects that are ready to go -- meaning they have been designed, engineered and have cleared environmental and other bureaucratic hurdles -- only about a quarter of the overall cost is spent within the first year, according to the Transportation Department.”3 Since the recession is supposed to be over at the end of 2009, it seems that a temporary immigration cut will help more people to be employed during the recession than would a stimulus package.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does not release statistics on many visa categories. But some information is out there for those who are willing to spend many hours looking. There are currently more than 57,000 foreigners who are recent graduates of universities in the United States competing for jobs with American recent graduates right here in the United States. These 57,766 people are in the “Optional Practical Training” (OPT) stage of their student visas.4 The OPT stage allows a foreign student who has finished a degree at a U.S. university to stay for an additional 29 months to work in the United States. These people are often extremely compliant workers because they want the employer to sponsor them for permanent legal status (a Green Card). Whom would you hire, the American college graduate, or the compliant foreigner with an American degree? Do you know a recent college graduate who cannot find his or her first job? I do. I did not even want to mention the OPT stage of the student visa, which is composed of young people who came here legally to attend school. It’s just that the government issues so few statistics about the visa categories affecting quality jobs that I am forced to discuss the visa types for which I can find data.

Then there are the approximately 295,000 foreign workers here on an L-1 visa.5 The L-1 visa is for transfers within a multinational corporation of people who worked for that corporation abroad, whom the corporation now wants to bring to the United States. Why, in a sharp recession, are we letting multinational corporations import workers instead of putting Americans in those jobs? Importing a foreign worker to take a job in the United States is just like the corporate practice of outsourcing, except that your job is being outsourced right in front of your face. If the foreign workers are here for training, let them come in on a H-3 visa, which is expressly for training purposes.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin are conscious of the L visa situation and have obtained information from USCIS on this issue. They issued a joint press release, available here. Senator Durbin says in that press release: “But some of these companies have hundreds, and in some cases thousands of L visa workers. I find it hard to believe that any one company has that many individuals that are legitimately being transferred within a single year. I find it even harder to believe that these L visas are being used appropriately when many of the same companies are some of the largest employers of H1-B workers. It's clear that foreign outsourcing firms are abusing the system and we can't let that continue.” USCIS did release to Senators Durbin and Grassley a list of all companies that received L visas in 2006, and the number of visas issued to each company, available here. But USCIS did not furnish the total number of visas issued, so that somebody has to count 354 pages of data manually to get that number. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has bothered to count it! USCIS knows that number. But they do not want us to know, so they issue the data in a difficult-to-access format so that you have to invest significant resources of time and energy to get the information you need.

Some people make the argument that immigrants are the source of this economy’s dynamism and that they start new businesses. Research by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that immigrants are no more likely to start a business than Americans, and that most of the immigrant businesses just serve other immigrants. That said, a reduction of 1.25 million would still admit 421,500 working age persons per year, which would include all the spouses and minor children of current citizens and legal residents. We could also keep the “Employment creation (investors)” visa category wide open for the immigrants who are most likely to start businesses.

When the United States was tackling the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, we had in place The Immigration Act of 1924, which had drastically reduced immigration from the levels of the Ellis Island era. Because we could not reduce immigration any further, the only solution was government spending to put Americans back to work (a stimulus package). For the deep recession currently underway, we have both options: temporary cuts in the immigration of workers and government spending. It seems a lot more cost effective to pursue the option of a temporary reduction in the immigration of workers.

Temporarily cutting immigration of workers is virtually free compared to spending $700 billion for a stimulus package. Temporarily reducing the massive in-migration of workers in our economy for 2 years looks like the sensible stimulus.

3Lori Montgomery and Michael D. Shear, Haste Could Make Waste on Stimulus, States Say, Washington Post, December 3, 2008, page A1.

4 Source: Institute of International Education, Open Doors Report: 2008, “Fields of Study” Data Table. []

5The 295,000 figure is 59,000 L-1 visas per year multiplied by an assumed typical stay of 5 years. In 2001, there were 328,480 L1 visa admissions to the U.S.. GreenCardApply.Com claims 59,384 L1 visas were issued that year. [The source for the 328,480 figure is the Department of Homeland Security. The figure counts the number of times people entered the U.S. on an L1 visa. There can be multiple admissions on the same visa as the holder travels back and forth.] In 2003, there were 298,054 L1 visa admissions to the U.S.. GreenCardApply claims 57,000 L1 visas were issued that year. In 2007, there were 363,536 L1 visa admissions. That indicates a significantly higher number of L1 visa holders than in either 2001 or 2003, if travel patterns are constant. But I am using the lower 2001 figure of 59,000 in order to avoid making unreasonable claims. The L visa is granted typically for a 3 year period, and may be extended in 2 year increments, up to a total of 5 or 7 years depending on the subcategory of visa. Given the number of visas issued per year, and the length of the stay allowed, a mid-range calculation is that there are 295,000 people in the U.S. on the L visa. Source: No public information on the duration of the L visa is available on the USCIS website, so I used an immigration law firm website to get information: If any of my numbers are wrong, then USCIS should release accurate,official information to the public.

Take action NOW by signing the Petition to President-elect Barack Obama asking him not to support Amnesty for foreign workers or go to your Action Buffet.

CHARLES BREITERMAN is a Lawyer and Research Analyst for NumbersUSA

Update 9/26/2009

The ideas in this blog were criticized by Walter Ewing, a Ph.D. researcher writing for the Immigration Policy Center. Ewing made two main points. One point is that our data on the number of employment authorization documents issued each year is “unverifiable.” That point is absolute nonsense. This data is from the bureau of the United States Department of Homeland Security called United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A researcher associated with the Immigration Policy Center and holding a doctoral degree simply needs to call the USCIS media inquiry department and request verification of the data. The USCIS website lists the national office and 8 regional offices that can handle media inquiries—a total of 9 phone numbers are listed. The Immigration Policy Center is well-known and well-connected. There is little doubt that USCIS would comply with the request for information.

The second point the researcher made is that a significant portion of the 1.1 million new Green Cards granted every year are not “new” workers. Yes, 59% of the Green Cards granted in 2007 were adjustments of status for people already here. But these people are still being granted a privilege to remain in the U.S. workforce when the United States also had the option and the right to decline to allow them to remain here during a period of high unemployment for U.S. workers. It was an error of terminology, but not of substance.

Some of the adjustments of status are for people who have expiring work visas. For example, somebody who has spent 6 years in the U.S. on an H-1B visa is granted a Green Card. Other adjustments are for people here illegally who are able to convert to legal status and receive a Green Card. These people who have had their status adjusted would otherwise have had to leave the United States due to the expiration of their work visa or the fact that they were here illegally. It was entirely at the option of the United States that they were granted the privilege of remaining in our workforce and competing with Americans for jobs. Therefore, while they may not be “new” workers, they are workers that do not have to be here, and are allowed to be here by a government that seems to cater to non-voting foreigners over its voting citizen constituents. Whatever happened to a government that protects its own people?

Subsequent research by the Center for Immigration Studies arrived at a number of 1.5 million foreign workers admitted each year. See table 10 of this document: [Trends in Immigrant and Native Employment, May 2009]

America's Jobless
American workers

Updated: Fri, Oct 9th 2009 @ 5:14pm EDT

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