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Fed governor favours open US immigration

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Amidst a growing debate about immigration in the US, one of the country's top officials has said that tougher policies brought in since September 11 2001 may put a brake on America's productivity growth, Reuters reports.

Answering questions at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ben Bernanke, a member of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve, said relatively open immigration had been good for the US economy.

"I think a very important part of the productivity gains in the past decade were associated with our open immigration policy," he said. "If we don't allow, if we don't make provision for bright people, whether they be graduate students or professional people to come... that's a loss to our society and a loss to our potential productivity."

These statements come amidst signs that immigration will be one of the most controversial issues of George W. Bush's second term, which will commence with the presidential inauguration today. According to the Financial Times newspaper, President Bush has said he will seek changes to US immigration laws by allowing some of the 8 million illegal immigrants in America to stay for up to six years legally on work permits, and by allowing employers to advertise for labour abroad if they cannot find workers in the US at wages they consider acceptable.

However, he faces stiff political opposition from pro and anti immigration groups. Immigrant rights groups say the proposals are only temporary fixes. Meanwhile, powerful Republicans in Congress are threatening to block the President's plans.