ImmigrationWorks (IW) organizes small business owners to advocate for policies that allow more lower-skill workers to come to the U.S. to work. We see lower-skill immigration as both an important and a neglected issue: few other advocacy groups make lower-skill immigration a top priority, and IW, one of the few that does, is small relative to many other immigration advocacy groups.
IW requested funding to close their currently projected funding gap, hire an additional staff member to work on advocacy and policy development, and conduct a battery of messaging research. We do not have a strong sense of the likely impact of providing additional funds for these activities, but we see this grant as a good opportunity to increase capacity for one of the main groups advocating for lower-skill workers to be allowed to come to the U.S. to work. That opportunity, in addition to the opportunity to learn and the chance to explore “lower-skill immigration advocacy” as a potential focus area within labor mobility, seem sufficient to justify a grant.
We also see this grant as a good opportunity to explore work around lower-skill immigration advocacy as a potential focus area.
Rationale for making the grant
We have identified labor mobility as a priority cause, and as such have prioritized it for possible “learning grants”. Through our research so far, we have come to the tentative view that a global humanitarian philanthropist working on advocacy around labor mobility in the U.S. should likely focus predominantly on lower-skill workers. We see a twofold case for this conclusion (we believe both of the below points to be true though we have not fully investigated them):
- Lower-skill (potential) migrants are more numerous and benefit relatively more from migration than higher-skill migrants.
- Higher-skill immigration is considerably more popular with the public and also has a much larger and more sophisticated advocacy infrastructure, suggesting that lower-skill immigration may have more open space to improve but also that it may be harder to advocate on.
Additionally, our current understanding is that best evidence suggests that both lower- and higher-skill immigration are net beneficial for current residents, though they have somewhat different distributional effects.
Based on this tentative view, we sought out organizations advocating for more lower-skill workers to be allowed to come to the U.S. to work. We were not able to find any advocacy organizations dedicated to making the case that more lower-skill workers should be allowed to migrate on humanitarian grounds, and experts generally told us that they felt that there was not a major constituency for such a message. The only groups we were able to find advocating for more lower-skill migrants represent business in some capacity, and they are relatively small or do not focus primarily on lower-skill immigrants:
- The ImmigrationWorks Foundation (501(c)3) and ImmigrationWorks USA (501(c)4) mobilize small business owners and focus primarily on lower-skill immigration.
- The Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of mayors and CEOs associated with former New York City mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg, has promoted lower-skill immigration, along with a number of other immigration reform measures.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the central U.S. advocate for big businesses, formally supports more lower-skill immigration but has apparently prioritized higher-skill immigration reform more highly.
All of these groups have supported comprehensive immigration reform proposals that address lower-skill immigration in the context of a number of other issues, but our understanding is that ImmigrationWorks is the only one for which lower-skill immigration is the top priority, and that it is much smaller than the others. Many other business-focused immigration groups, such as FWD.us, do not seem to focus on lower-skill immigration, while some other specific industry groups (such as those representing the restaurant and construction industries) do to some extent. ImmigrationWorks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a number of industry groups comprise the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC), which supports lower-skill immigration but does not appear to have any staff of its own.
Background on ImmigrationWorks
Throughout this discussion, ImmigrationWorks (IW) refers to the combination of the ImmigrationWorks Foundation, a 501(c)3, and ImmigrationWorks USA, a 501(c)4, unless otherwise specified.
IW was founded by conservative journalist Tamar Jacoby in 2008 to organize small employers of lower-skill immigrants, mobilizing them to advocate in Washington, D.C. and in their own communities across the U.S. The Washington-based operation supports this decentralized effort and works in parallel on Capitol Hill to advance policy. Prior to starting IW, Jacoby was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote for Newsweek, and edited the New York Times op-ed page.
IW’s stated principles are:
- A legal system that works. A central goal of immigration reform is bringing America’s annual legal intake of foreign workers more realistically into line with the country’s labor needs. The downturn did nothing to change the fundamental demographic and educational trends that make foreign workers an essential ingredient of American prosperity. Employers in many sectors – hospitality, food processing, construction, cleaning and maintenance, among others – need immigrants to keep their businesses open and contributing to the economy. And as the economy improves, that need will only grow – global talent and less-skilled manpower alike will play an essential role in the nation’s future competitiveness.
- Smarter, better enforcement. New, more realistic quotas must be accompanied by more effective enforcement on the border and in the workplace. More realistic quotas will facilitate enhanced enforcement. But the U.S. must commit to regaining control of who enters the country.
- Worksite verification. Employers need tools to verify that the workers they hire are who they say they are and are in the country legally. The system must be timely, accurate and efficient, and it must not make employers liable for errors in government databases. As part of an overhaul package that includes more realistic immigration quotas, an electronic employment verification system will be a boon to employers seeking to abide by immigration law.
- A remedy for past mistakes. Any overhaul must include a practical answer for the 11 million immigrants living and working in the U.S. illegally. Amnesty is unacceptable, but so is mass deportation. National interest – national security and the rule of law – requires that the nation find a way to deal realistically with this underground population.
- Protecting U.S. workers. U.S. workers should not be displaced by foreign workers. All workers should enjoy the same labor protections. Legal foreign workers who settle permanently in the U.S. should be encouraged and assisted in assimilating – learning English and becoming citizens.
- Washington and the states. Immigration policy is a federal responsibility. States and local jurisdictions have a role to play, maintaining order at the local level. But national security, national economic needs and a long tradition of national jurisdiction over citizenship require that immigration and citizenship be handled at the federal level. Ultimately, only the federal government can fix what’s wrong with the immigration system.
In practice, IW focuses primarily on the first of these bullet points, and its advocacy efforts tend to be oriented towards Republicans.
IW’s budget for 2014 is roughly $612,000, and its current projected revenues are $557,000, both split across the c(3) and c(4) organizations. IW appears to have less than a year of reserves on hand.
ImmigrationWorks’ track record
In general, we find it difficult to assess the track record of small advocacy organizations, and this case is no exception.
IW has received funding from a number of foundations that support immigration reform, including the Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, and Open Society Institute. IW shared its applications and reports to these funders with us, which gave us a good sense of its outputs but did not identify many clear examples of causal impact it has had. For instance, in a 2013 report to the Ford Foundation on a completed grant, IW wrote:
In 2013, more than ever before, ImmigrationWorks USA fulfilled the mission it was created to fulfill – engaging business owners who rely on immigrant workers in the national debate about immigration reform.The last time reform was considered in Washington, in 2006 and 2007, few employers were willing to speak out publicly, and there was little discussion, inside the beltway or beyond, about the economic benefits of immigration. IW was formed to fill this void – and in 2013, years of hard work at the state and local level paid off on a national stage.
IW has been preparing for the current debate since the organization was founded, building a national network of small and medium-sized business owners informed and engaged on immigration. For five long years when there was no debate in Washington, IW worked to develop pro-immigration employer coalitions in the states. Our twin goals: educating business owners to educate others in their communities and arming them with ammunition they could use to make the case for reform – reports, policy briefs, talking points, op-ed templates and other materials about the economic benefits of immigration. This work bore fruit over the years in a broad-based national network of articulate, informed employers: formal and informal coalitions in more than 25 states made up of employers and employer representatives from across the spectrum of industries that rely on less-skilled workers – agriculture, food processing, hospitality, cleaning and maintenance, construction and health care.
In late 2012, immigration came to the fore again in Washington, and ImmigrationWorks was ready. We took of advantage of the momentum the renewed national debate created to expand our membership and deepen our reach, mobilizing a new tier of employers who had not been engaged before. In the past two years – the years covered by this Ford grant – the IW network has grown in size to over 5,000 members. Employers from states that had not engaged in the past are now speaking out in their communities – in Michigan, Missouri and North Dakota, among other states. Other business owners have taken their activity to a new level, making the case to their neighbors, engaging with the media and traveling across the country, sometimes several times a year, to participate in IW events.
This report helped us to understand how IW sees its role in promoting immigration reform but did not facilitate easy estimation of its expected impact on immigration.
In conversation, Tamar Jacoby reported that IW played an important role in developing policy proposals for the negotiations between business and labor groups around visas for lower-skill temporary workers – proposals that were eventually incorporated in the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed in 2013 – and she shared some documents to support that view. We haven’t attempted to vet this claim with other actors.
In background conversations that we did not receive permission to attribute, a few people with knowledge of the U.S. immigration policy advocacy context reported generally positive views about IW, though we did not get a strong sense of what impact they perceived IW to have had. We have not asked the Four Freedoms Fund or Open Society Institute why they stopped supporting IW.
One way to quantify IW’s historical role may be in terms of a conceivable impact on the development of the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, which included provisions for temporary workers that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated would increase the number of lawful U.S. residents by 2.3 million in 2033. At the same time, the CBO also projected a net decline in future unauthorized residents of 1.6 million in 2023 and 2.5 million in 2033, due primarily to increased enforcement at the border and the workplace (rather than crowding out by legal temporary workers). It is very difficult to estimate the counterfactual for how these figures may have been different in the absence of IW.
A cost-effectiveness analysis might focus on the increases in legal residents associated with the lower-skill temporary worker visa program that IW supported, attribute a portion to IW, guess at the annual probability of a major immigration reform passing, and estimate the gains that accrue to migrants compared to IW’s costs. Plausible-seeming assumptions yield results between around a hundred times expected return on IW’s costs and expected returns about equal to IW’s costs, though of course it is possible that IW has little or no impact.
In response to our expressed interest, IW prepared a “menu” of funding options (PDF). In addition to its projected $55K funding gap for 2014, IW is looking for funding for:
- Advocacy for immigration reform. Marshaling support for “immigration reform that includes an ample less-skilled worker visa program,” by mobilizing business to advocate to “business-minded Democrats and pro-immigration Republicans.” Projected costs include $40K for a “grassroots coordinator” in Washington, D.C. ($40K would cover about half of the staffer’s time; more on the staffer’s other duties below) and variable costs of up to $180K for campaigns in the states.
- Public opinion research. Commissioning focus groups and a poll to try to determine which messages work to persuade people of the need for lower-skill immigrant workers, with a projected cost of $150K.
- Building consensus around policy. Policy development and consensus building with the business community and input on legislation as it develops. $40k would pay for about half of a staffer’s time for this purpose.
Our impression is that supporting options 1 and 3 would likely involve IW hiring one person based in Washington, D.C. to split their time between the two projects.
Based on conversations with Tamar Jacoby, our understanding is that IW’s prioritization of funding needs is:
- $55K to close its 2014 funding gap.
- $150K for messaging research.
- $80K to hire someone to work on 1 and 3 above.
- Up to $180K for advocacy campaigns in the states.
Based on these priorities and a consideration of IW’s overall funding position, we decided to fund 1-3, for a total of $285,000. We are planning a one-year grant, with no commitment to renewal, and we plan to make it unrestricted, so that IW could change the proposed allocation of funds if it sees fit.
Room for more funding and fungibility
We see IW as having an unusually strong case for room for more funding. It is relatively small, with an annual budget of around $600K and four staff members, and its funding from foundations has declined from roughly $450K/year in 2009 and 2010 to around $250K in 2013 and a projected $130K in 2014.
In a recent grant application, IW wrote:
Last summer, during the so-called “Battle of August,” a peak, high-stakes period in the 2013 immigration debate, the ImmigrationWorks Foundation secured funding to hire a fifth full-time staff member: a grassroots coordinator. The new hire, who came on board in July, devoted her time exclusively to mobilizing small and medium-sized businesses beyond the beltway. She worked closely with our Washington allies – mostly larger, more powerful trade groups, including the National Restaurant Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the International Franchise Association, the Associated General Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Roofing Contractors Association, among others – to reach out to small business owners in states where the battle was most intense. And they worked together – local and national activists, across the sectors that hire immigrants – to organize local pro-immigration events, recruit employers to sign statements, generate op-ed pieces and place advertisements in the local and regional media.
The temporary grassroots coordinator also made it possible for ImmigrationWorks to fulfill a long-time goal: compiling a weekly update of pro-immigration business advocacy across the United States. Each installment, four to five pages long and widely circulated in reform circles in Washington and beyond, chronicled that week’s business-generated op-ed pieces, speeches, events, advertisements and social media campaigns – the only comprehensive accounting of its kind. The twin goals of the updates: to amplify business voices, but also provide examples of effective grassroots strategies and generate additional activity by other groups.The grassroots coordinator who came on board in summer 2013 was one of IWF’s most successful and effective hires. She built on the foundation we had established over the years – relationships in Washington and beyond the beltway – and took them to a new level, a substantial extension of our reach. Unfortunately, the one-time infusion of funds we had raised to pay for the position ran out in October 2013, and we had to let her go. Since then, we have made do the best we could with just four full-time staff.
ImmigrationWorks requests funding now to hire a new grassroots coordinator. Among the projects this person would be responsible for: a new national op-ed campaign, a series of employer roundtables in strategic locations around the county, a series of linked editorial board visits and resumption of IW’s now discontinued weekly grassroots update. We’re confident we can find and attract a capable candidate for a total of $50,000 – funding to cover salary, benefits and other associated costs.
We see having to lay off a valuable employee who costs only about $50K/year as a fairly compelling sign of room for more funding.
Case for the grant
The main case we see for this grant is based on a broad view about the general issue area and IW’s place in the relevant space, rather than on a strong substantive position on the value of the funded activities:
- We see lower-skill immigration as an extremely important issue. For a global humanitarian, allowing more lower-skill workers to work in the U.S. carries potentially very large benefits.
- Few advocacy organizations make lower-skill immigration a top priority.
- IW does focus on lower-skill immigrants, and they seem small relative to the importance of the issue, and relative to advocates that focus on different constituencies or different aspects of immigration reform.
- We know little about IW’s track record, but what information we do have seems potentially compatible with a high level of expected cost-effectiveness.
Within the proposed work, we do not have a firm view about whether the public opinion or advocacy-oriented work is more promising. One positive feature of the public opinion research may be that it is less time-sensitive than the advocacy work: messages that are found to work today may continue to be helpful if immigration reform appears on the national agenda again in a few years. On the other hand, IW’s advocacy is focused on the center-right, which has been a central obstacle in recent immigration reform efforts, potentially making that work more urgent. Partially as a result of our ambivalence about which work is most worthwhile, our support will be unrestricted, so that IW can allocate it as it sees fit.
In addition to the potential for impact, we also see this grant as a good way to learn more about advocacy opportunities around immigration reform in the U.S.
Risks to the success of the grant
In the short term, we take “success” to be a significant increase in capacity for IW (e.g. a professional staff member who is able to add substantial value to its advocacy efforts and some improved messages based on public opinion research). In the long term, we hope to see immigration policies that allow more lower-skill workers access to U.S. labor markets. We have only a very weak sense of the connection between these short- and long-term goals.
Besides our uncertainty about the connection between short- and long-term goals, we see a number of other potential risks to the success of the grant:
- IW could fail to use funds to effectively build capacity. It might face challenges in recruiting qualified candidates or otherwise using money to increase capacity, or the public opinion research could fail to find messages that lead to more support for lower-skill labor mobility. IW has worked with pollsters twice before, and both times failed to develop convincing messages, though this seems to have been partially due to different research priorities in the past. Even if the public opinion research does find some effective messages, IW could fail to convince other actors to embrace those messages.
- Immigration reform could fail to re-emerge on the Congressional agenda for many years to come, such that any additional increase in capacity that IW is able to develop in the short term cannot translate into any longer-term gains.
- Because we are not in full agreement with IW on all areas of policy, we see a risk that IW could use funds for purposes we would consider actively harmful, such as supporting candidates who broadly work against the sort of policy changes we’d like to see. However, IW does not engage in electioneering, and has stated that it would not sacrifice an overall comprehensive immigration reform package just to advance its agenda for lower-skill workers. Additionally, IW has previously received support from a number of broadly progressive foundations, which we believe would be unlikely if it was planning to electioneer for broadly conservative politicians. More realistically, IW is likely to make different tradeoffs in the activities it undertakes and the positions it supports than it would if its values were closer to the ones we hold, but not in a way that leads to what we would perceive as outright harm.
We see this grant mainly as an effort to increase capacity for one of the main groups advocating for policies that allow more lower-skill workers to come to the U.S. to work, a group that seems to be small relative to the importance of the problem and relative to other immigration advocacy groups. We hope that this additional capacity will help IW influence policy to allow more lower-skill migration, but we do not have much sense of how likely that is or what the causal chain might be. We believe that it is more likely than not that this grant will have no significant impact on policy, but we believe that the possibility of policy impact, in addition to our learning benefits, justify the cost. We also see this as a useful test for a broader potential “lower-skill immigration advocacy” focus area within labor mobility and as a further opportunity to express our interest in the cause.
Plans for learning and follow-up
Key questions for follow-up
Questions we hope to eventually try to answer include:
- How does IW end up spending the grant? We expect some information about this quite quickly (e.g. the decision to hire a pollster to do the public opinion research), and another update at the end of the term of the grant.
- Does the grant succeed in materially growing IW’s capacity? What happens when funding ends after a year? Did any of the things IW spent the grant on seem to persist (e.g. by crafting a message that will continue to be useful in the future or developing lasting relationships with other advocates)?
- What does the public opinion research find? Is it helpful? We should be able to learn about this almost as soon as the research is done, and the answer seems somewhat binary – either the research finds a message that works or it doesn’t, though even an apparently successful message could fail to be adopted or turn out to be unhelpful.
- Does anyone else approach us for funding as a result of this grant? Because so few organizations work to support lower-skill immigration, we do not expect this grant to lead many others to approach us, but we hope that this grant ensures that someone planning to start such an organization would consider approaching us.
- What impact, if any, does IW’s advocacy work end up having? This will likely be impossible to establish with any confidence, but we hope to answer it to the extent possible.
We expect to have a conversation with Tamar Jacoby every 2-3 months over the course of the year-long grant, with public notes if the conversation warrants it. Towards the end of the grant, we plan to attempt a more holistic and detailed evaluation of the grant’s performance, aiming to answer the questions above.
We may abandon either or both of these follow-up expectations if labor mobility ceases to be one of our focus areas, or perform more follow-up than planned if this work becomes a key part of our priorities.
GiveWell approached IW in March 2014 to discuss funding opportunities relating to advocacy for lower-skill immigration and learned that IW was seeking philanthropic funding. A series of conversations about IW’s work culminated in a request for funding.
We shared a draft version of this page with IW staff prior to the grant being finalized.
|GiveWell’s internal notes from a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, April 7, 2014
|GiveWell’s internal notes from a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, June 4, 2014
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Audrey Singer on June 25, 2013
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Michael Clemens, April 21, 2014
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Neil Ruiz, June 28, 2013
|GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of conversations with Tamar Jacoby on May 12 and May 23, 2014
|IW Bio for Tamar Jacoby
|IW Carnegie and Four Freedoms Reports
|IW Financials Summary
|IW Ford Foundation Reports
|IW Menu of Funding Options
|IW Open Society Institute Reports
|IW Work on Low Skilled Visa Program