Miller Center

Media Contact: Howard Witt, 434-924-6051

The 2012 Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy

High-Skilled Immigration: Politics, Economics, and Law

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Economic competitiveness is a recurring theme in the current economic and political discourse.  While some bemoan America’s high corporate tax rate, others praise the incentives provided by a mature and liquid financial system.  What is often left out of the discussion is the role of America’s labor force. 

The United States has long been the leading destination for immigrants—both high and low skilled—and the foreign born have played an important role in this country’s cultural, economic and political life.  Foreign born engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, for example, make significant contributions to U.S. innovation and competitiveness.  Yet current immigration policy makes it increasingly difficult for highly-skilled immigrants to enter and remain in the country.  

Held on December 2, the 2012 Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy convened representatives from the academy, the government, and the private sector for a serious discussion about the true impact of current immigration provisions on American competitiveness, how proposals for high-skilled admissions can meet the needs of the U.S. economy, what effect such proposals might have on other policy goals (such as encouraging U.S. students to enter STEM fields), how those trade-offs should be managed, and the extent to which specific proposals serve national interests or instead primarily benefit particular industries or employers. 

Unlike other conferences which focus on the relative inefficiency of the legislative process for implementing structural reforms in deeply contested areas, the assembled group focused on rethinking admissions policies for the high skilled.  Are there market-based solutions, legal solutions, and/or political solutions?  Panelists discussed the efficacy of proposed reforms and paid close attention to the realities of admission screening and processing as well as to the vulnerability of programs to manipulation and fraud. 

Events were held on December 7, 2012 at the Miller Center’s Washington, D.C. office and the National Press Club. Read Miller Center Research and Scholarship, download the full agenda, or read participant biographies.

Conference Video

Downloadable Content

Video: H.264 MP4 | Audio: MP3

Keynote Roundtable: “High Skilled Immigration: Pathways to Progress”


  • Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor and Executive Editor, online, The Wall Street Journal; President, Pew Research Center (beginning January 2013)


  • Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia
  • Mark Warner, United States Senator, Virginia
  • Steve Case, Founder and former CEO, AOL

Downloadable Content

Video: H.264 MP4 | Audio: MP3

Panel One: Countries in Competition: How Have Receiving Countries Worked to Attract the Highly Skilled?

This panel will place U.S. immigration policy within historical and comparative perspective. What policies are used to govern immigration of highly skilled workers? Is there “best practice” across countries? Can admissions policies focusing on the highly skilled work in concert with a concern for family based admissions? Panelists will address topics including:

  • How has high-skilled immigration policy evolved?
  • How is U.S. policy similar/different from that of other industrial countries?
  • What should be the role of labor-market testing (for example, through labor certification) vs. limited employer attestations, and of numerical admissions ceilings?
  • What role does citizenship policy play in the recruitment and retention of the highly skilled?

Chair: Edward Schumacher-Matos, Director, Migration and Integration Research Program, Harvard University; syndicated columnist


  • Gary Freeman, Professor of Politics, University of Texas
  • Giovanni Facchini, Professor of Economics, Erasmus University
  • Susan Martin, Herzberg Professor of International Migration and Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University

Downloadable Content

Video: H.264 MP4 | Audio: MP3

Panel Two: Highly-Skilled Immigration: Contributions and Controversy

This panel will deal with the broad controversies surrounding the role that high skilled immigration plays in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and economic prosperity. Discussion will focus on the benefits and limitations of immigration policies as panelists will be encouraged to go beyond general descriptions and focus on the implementation of current policies. Panelists will address topics including:

  • To what extent and in what precise ways does high-skilled immigration spur innovation? What immigration policies can promote more of it?
  • Is sponsored/employment-based admission more efficient than a points-based system?
  • What steps, if any, should be taken to minimize the impact of higher admissions on U.S. workers in STEM fields?
  • How should highFskilled admission policies be designed to maximize U.S. economic advantage, attracting the highFperforming rather than simply becoming an avenue for persons who meet mechanically stated minimum requirements?

Chair: B. Lindsay Lowell, Director of Policy Studies, Institute for the Study of International Migration


  • Peter Schuck, Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law, Emeritus, Yale University
  • Ron Hira, Professor of Public Policy, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Jennifer Hunt, Professor of Labor Economics, Rutgers University

Downloadable Content

Video: H.264 MP4 | Audio: MP3

Panel Three: Admission, Persistence and Retention of the Highly Skilled

This panel is designed to examine the admission, transition and retention of highly skilled professionals. Panelists will examine specific programs and provisions of U.S. practice including, but not limited to, programs governing the admission of students, treaty traders and investors, H1-B and L, EB-1 and EB-5 permanent immigrants.

Panelists will address topics including:

  • What are the contributions of foreign students to the U.S. (economy, culture, political system, etc)?
  • What role in attracting and retaining highlyFqualified foreign students does visa policy play?
  • To what extent can current immigration provisions be better used to hire and retain top students in U.S. employment?
  • How can industry, universities, and government cooperate? Is cooperation necessary?

Chair: Edward Alden, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


  • Michael Teitelbaum, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Harvard Law School
  • Madeline Zavodny, Professor of Economics, Agnes Scott College
  • Michael Finn, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Miller Center is grateful for the generosity of Mortimer Caplin, whose vision and philanthropy have made it possible to launch and sustain the annual Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy.