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A roadmap for immigration reform: identifying weak links in the labor supply chain

Skilled workforce Skilled migration Labour market disruption Immigration United States of America

The last time the U.S. enacted major immigration reform was the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Since then, little has been done to fix what has become a broken system despite heated debate at the national, state and local levels.

Unfortunately, the immigration debate has also become increasingly disconnected from the exigencies of the U.S. economy, even in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in which worker shortages and labor market dysfunction have become increasingly glaring. Worse still, the ageing U.S. workforce and structural shifts toward a more service-oriented economy will likely deepen much of this dysfunction unless policy-makers can agree to major reforms to shore up the U.S. workforce.

This report aims to support these necessary reforms by highlighting the areas of the economy that are most in need of workers. Importantly, the approach not only highlights occupations that are—and will continue to be—in greatest demand, but also the occupations that are most complementary to the existing workforce, ensuring that efforts to meet these labor market needs will support all workers. At the core is a framework that the authors call the Occupational Opportunity Network, which identifies strategic occupations that will be in high demand for the next decade; are historically immigrant intensive; and have a high degree of complementarity with other occupations. In short, the authors define highly complementary occupations as those that are central to the U.S. workforce in the sense that they are used as inputs to many different industries and, within those industries, tend to augment the employment of other workers.

This framework can support immigration reform efforts in Congress and the executive branch—for instance, when considering the scale of any expansion in the number of H1B (specialty, high education) and H2 (temporary services) visa categories or in devising new policies, possibly including some of those that the authors discuss at the end of the report.

The authors begin by describing the current U.S. labor market context, noting the important distortions caused by the pandemic and their relationship to the immigrant workforce. Next, they present their detailed framework, the Occupational Opportunity Network. Finally, the authors offer some practical policy applications.

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