Friday, June 27, 2008

Don't Give Me Your Talented, Your Smart, Your Educated Masses

George Will on immigration:

Two-thirds of doctoral candidates in science and engineering in U.S. universities are foreign-born. But only 140,000 employment-based green cards are available annually, and 1 million educated professionals are waiting -- often five or more years -- for cards. Congress could quickly add a zero to the number available, thereby boosting the U.S. economy and complicating matters for America's competitors.

Suppose a foreign government had a policy of sending workers to America to be trained in a sophisticated and highly remunerative skill at American taxpayers' expense, and then forced these workers to go home and compete against American companies. That is what we are doing because we are too generic in defining the immigrant pool.

Barack Obama and other Democrats are theatrically indignant about U.S. companies that locate operations outside the country. But one reason Microsoft opened a software development center in Vancouver is that Canadian immigration laws allow Microsoft to recruit skilled people it could not retain under U.S. immigration restrictions. Mr. Change We Can Believe In is not advocating the simple change -- that added zero -- and neither is Mr. Straight Talk.

See this cartoon for more.

(HT Jonathan Adler)


C# said...

few questions:
why couldn't American be skillful enough to fill those jobs?

International students pay a lot more to study abroad. how is that our tax payer's money?

Americans study abroad, too. a two way street in international treaties.

allow more immigrants base on their education? so, unless you're smart and working on your phd, you're less likely to immigrant to the US for the sake of freedom, which is currently true unless you have a family tie. But what happened to all men are created equal?

just because 2/3 of dr. candidates are foreign born, doesn't mean the US government is supposed to offer more jobs to foreigners. I think we help our foreign allies by allowing them opportunities for quality education to improve their own countries.

thinking said...

George Will is wrong, in that Barack Obama has addressed this's on his website:

"we do not want to shut our doors to innovators from overseas, who have traditionally helped make America strong. Barack Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes improvement in our visa programs, including our legal permanent resident visa programs and temporary programs including the H-1B program, to attract some of the world’s most talented people to America. We should allow immigrants who earn their degrees in the U.S. to stay, work, and become Americans over time. And we should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers. Obama will work to ensure immigrant workers are less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers."

Brian Hollar said...

Good questions, C!

Here are some answers:

1) It depends on what type of job you're talking about. Some people think there is a shortage of people with technical skills in the US. (I disagree.) If there does suddenly become a demand for a certain vocation (such as nursing) with a short supply and a reasonable amount of training time (meaning these jobs can't be filled immediately), one alternative is to allow immigrants in to fill those positions. (You see this happening in nursing.) Additionally, I think the standard of living in America is so high, people can afford to pursue careers they are excited about more than in times past. This means people who might have studied a technical field in the past now pursue something else that is closer to their passions. (I know a lot of engineers, but a minority of them are people I would say are passionate about their field.) In other cultures, technical fields are still a good way to secure a high standard of living and are attractive to people from those countries. Getting a PhD is also a way for foreign students to remain in the US for a few extra years.

2) International students do indeed pay high tuition rates. The same as out-of-state students. That doesn't mean it isn't subsidized by tax money. It just means it’s cheaper than it would be without the tax payer's support. (For example, if tax payers contribute $10,000 per student per year at a very expensive school, the student still might pay $25,000 in tuition each year. That's less than the $35,000/year they'd have to pay without the tax-payer support.)

3) Americans do indeed study abroad, but at far lower rates than students come to the US to study. Our university system is by far the best in the world. (Although our elementary and secondary education leaves something to be desired.)

4) Every country has quota systems for immigration and more educated people have preference. As I understand it, the US has a split system with some people getting preference based on family connection, education levels, and wealth and another segment based on lottery with a certain number of spaces for immigrants from each country. There are additional exceptions for political motivation (such as refugees) as well. Our immigration system is currently badly in need of an overhaul. I'm in favor of much more open borders. (Although I am not entirely opposed to some form of screening.) Immigration is such a politically charged issue, I think the change George Will is advocating is one that is a step in the right direction (more open immigration) and one that would be much easier to implement than a major overhaul to the immigration system. I think this would be a positive change in the short-term and help acclimate people to more open immigration in the long-term.

5) You bring up an important point about "brain-drain". This occurs when highly educated people leave their home countries for better opportunity elsewhere. African nations in particular really struggle with this, which affects their economic growth. On the other hand, it hardly seems fair to force people to stay in places where they have less opportunity. I'd be in favor of the US increasing the quota for technical degrees (and all other countries) for a whole host of reasons. There is no question it would make the US better off and might act as an incentive for other countries to improve the opportunities in their countries to try to attract people back. Immigrants also tend to send a lot of money to their families back home, making it arguably the best foreign-aid program possible. For a long time, the US has had the unique ability to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to live and work here. (Starting particularly after Hitler took power in Germany in the 1930s.) I don't think it's a good policy position to artificially restrict this. Other countries could try to mitigate this by forming contracts and/or paying for schooling for people they send here.

See my other posts on immigration here.