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Room to Grow: Setting Immigration Levels in a Changing America

By Ali Noorani and Danilo Zak

Immigrants — working together with U.S.-born Americans — have long been essential in helping to build a more prosperous country that can live up to the ethos of the American dream. Now, immigrants have another increasingly important role to play, this time in response to the country’s rapidly changing demographics. Demographic aging is a long-term problem, and evidence suggests that a sustained increase in immigration levels can be part of an effective policy response. Immigrants already play a crucial role in our economy and our communities, and they represent a natural solution to the problems posed by the country’s changing demographics. Already in 2021, immigrants are helping to meet growing labor market demands, providing services for an increasing elderly population, and spurring vitality and growth in local communities.

The country will need more immigrants in order to continue to thrive and beat back the looming ill effects of demographic deficit. But it has been more than three decades since the last major reform to the legal immigration system. U.S. immigration flows are unresponsive to the demands of today, a point made clear by the fact that immigration categories of all types — employment-based, humanitarian, family — are massively oversubscribed and face significant backlogs.

This paper provides a recommendation for setting evidence-backed immigration levels that combat the worst effects of demographic decline and protect the nation’s social and economic health. A modern immigration system is necessary to respond to modern challenges, and increasing immigration levels will help us both provide for our elderly population and give us confidence in the country we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.

You can read the full paper here.

Watch a discussion among the authors Ali Noorani and Danilo Zak, Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, and Kristie De Peña, director of immigration at the Niskanen Center on the paper and why increasing overall immigration levels will be critical to responding to our country’s demographic challenges.

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