Thursday, June 26, 2008

A step in the right direction: Even George Will gets it!

Yes, even Georgie "the sexual intellectual" Will knows that it's nuts to not raise the limits on visas for skilled foreigners:

The semiconductor industry's problem is entangled with a subject about which the loquacious presidential candidates are reluctant to talk -- immigration, specifically that of highly educated people. Concerning whom, U.S. policy should be: A nation cannot have too many such people, so send us your Ph.D.s yearning to be free.

Instead, U.S. policy is: As soon as U.S. institutions of higher education have awarded you a Ph.D., equipping you to add vast value to the economy, get out. Go home. Or to Europe, which is responding to America's folly with "blue cards" to expedite acceptance of the immigrants America is spurning.

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 persons 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.

John McCain's campaign Web site has a spare statement on "immigration reform" that says nothing about increasing America's intake of highly qualified immigrants. Obama's site says only: "Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should." "Where we can"? We can now.

Solutions to some problems are complex; removing barriers to educated immigrants is not.


Anonymous said...

It's even worse than you think. If you have a MS or PhD from a US institution, it's relatively easier (for what relatively is worth in this case, which is not much!) to get a job in the US.

If you have a MS or PhD from elsewhere (doesn't matter if it's from Oxford or Cambridge or LSE or...), things are even harder.

Also - getting an H1B visa if you are an academic is easy, since you don't "count" towards the ludicrous 65k visa cap. But if you are in industry , then you are doomed.

So if you think the situation sucks for academics/scientists, you'd be appalled to find out what it's like in industry.

Jobs in finance are currently being shipped (by US firms, from JP Morgan to Goldman to...) to London, because hiring skilled immigrants is very easy in the UK.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Anonymous said...

All true...but even more generally, skilled or unskilled, I have a very difficult time understanding immigration issues to begin with. Fundamentally, and from a logical ethical perspective, as a US citizen, why should I be more entitled to a job here than an equally skilled (or in my case, more likely than not better skilled) worker born in another country? I am more entitled to the job because my parents procreated in the back of a Chevette in Indianapolis rather than in Teotihuacan?

Anonymous said...

But the only way of making progress here is to show people that it's really NOT in their long-run self-interest to push for restrictionist policies. Appealing to ethical/fairness etc arguments won't take us far.

Anonymous said...

I don't object to increasing the number of skilled workers, but as a software engineer I've worked with some H1B workers that were not very good. The absolute worst programmer I've ever worked with was a H1B visa holder.

I think set up a guest worker program with no cap on the number of workers or arbitrary time limits, but require their employer to pay them wages at say the 95th percentile for whatever job they are doing. This would allow companies to hire as many of the truly best and brightest as they wish while not creating fears that guest workers are driving down wages.

Anonymous said...


br said...

Anon 4,
I agree that H1B or foreign programmers are often not as effective as those who's primary language is English. But, H1Bers are also often some of the best, because they don't have the union mentality of many American programmers. Many "American" programmers work slowly or add unnecessary complexity in pursuit of prolonged job security. Whenever I detect that mentality, I try to get rid of them as soon as possible.

What you're asking is for companies to be forced to pay more for labor, and consumers to pay more for products, in order to protect your source of income. This means that you want to be a welfare recipient... for all of the rest of us to pay extra for your specific benefit.

If you can't command a higher salary than someone who can barely speak English and/or lives halfway around the world, then I can't feel sorry for you.

Companies should be able to pay H1B workers as little as they can. If they have to hire 7 of them to get the same productivity as an American worker, then firms must be free to evaluate that tradeoff.