Aspen Economic Strategy Group Releases New Policy Analysis on Why and How to Expand US Immigration

December 6, 2022

Immigration helps address the US’ growing demographic challenges posed by declining fertility and aging population and spurs economic growth.

Contact: Kelly Friendly

Washington, D.C., December 6, 2022 — The Aspen Economic Strategy Group (AESG) today released a paper, “Why and How to Expand US Immigration,” by Tara Watson, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution, showing immigration can help address the demographic challenges in the United States and spur economic growth. The paper will be included in the AESG’s policy volume Economic Policy in a More Uncertain World which will be released in January 2023 to mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of AESG.

“The evidence is overwhelming that well-designed immigration reform is our best hope for spurring economic growth and helping the United States confront the growing demographic challenges we face from declining fertility,” said Watson, who makes clear policy recommendations within the paper, including:

  • Gradually expand legal family immigration each year, expand employment-based migration opportunities, and loosen per-country caps
  • Shift towards permanent rather than temporary migration pathways
  • Discourage visa overstays and penalize employers who hire unauthorized immigrants
  • Offer relief to long-term undocumented residents
  • Redistribute funds to localities and individuals adversely affected by immigration
  • Fund the bureaucratic infrastructure so that the system functions smoothly

Watson aims to inject fact-based economic analysis into a policy debate that is often characterized by political extremes. The paper describes economic benefits of immigration for the US economy, including:

  • The foreign-born population participates in the workforce at a higher rate than native-born Americans and are more likely to move to areas of greater economic opportunity.
  • The federal government also gains from payroll and income taxes paid by immigrant workers, who often consume less in government benefits relative to what they pay in.
  • Immigrants can help the US address its growing demographic challenges posed by population aging and declining fertility.

The paper calls for policies to help individuals and communities who are adversely impacted by immigration, including workers at the bottom of the US income distribution and state and local governments in immigrant-heavy areas.

Watson also describes how the US immigration bureaucracy is overwhelmed by administrative backlogs and outdated policy. For example:

  • In 2021, an estimated 250,000 green cards were “wasted” when permanent admissions authorized by law were not processed and cannot be used in future years.
  • The backlog of pending green-card and other permanent adjustment-of-status applications grew from 3 million in 2013 to 8.4 million in 2022.
  • Quotas for family preference migration and employment-based admissions have not been updated since 1990.

Congress has not authorized any significant immigration packages since 1996 and this inaction has led local authorities to take action, resulting in an immigration policy that is inconsistently enforced throughout the country. The paper calls for bipartisan comprehensive reform as a necessary step towards a functional immigration policy.

To read the full paper, click here

To watch an interview with the author Tara Watson, click here


The Aspen Economic Strategy Group (AESG), a program of the Aspen Institute, is composed of a diverse, bipartisan group of distinguished leaders and thinkers with the goal of promoting evidence-based solutions to significant U.S. economic challenges. Co-chaired by Henry M. Paulson, Jr. and Timothy Geithner and Directed by Professor Melissa Kearney, the AESG fosters the exchange of economic policy ideas and seeks to clarify the lines of debate on emerging economic issues while promoting bipartisan relationship-building among current and future generations of policy leaders in Washington. More information can be found at

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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