Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How to deal with Immigration

This is a major issue these days, and one to which there seems to be no simple solution. There is a conflict between two apparently irreconcilable objectives. On the one hand, the US (and we see the same in Western Europe and even wealthy Middle Eastern countries) need more skills and labor. There is little debate about the need to import doctors, engineers and scientists, although there may be arguments about the specific number. There is more discussion about importing low-cost labor.

The USA has a particularly challenging dilemma in that it was created by immigration, yet needs to manage it. Firstly, let us understand that even the Berlin Wall, with barbed wire, searchlights, mined strips and watchtowers with machine guns, could not completely stop people crossing it. It was also much, much shorter than the US-Mexican border. We will never completely be able to stop people crossing who are desperate enough.

Furthermore, the US cannot afford to have billions of people feeling resentful about what may be seen as a dog in the manger attitude. So the US needs to manage the immigration flow much better than it does. For example, let us take a look at US expats living in other countries, and there are many. Most are temporary, but some are permanent. Obtaining visas and work permits for most western countries is fairly straightforward and fast. The US makes it more complex, slow and seemingly random. Once you have a temporary work visa, such as an H1-B, which may take 8-9 months, life is still not simple. Your freedom of movement in and out of the US may be restricted. If you have to leave the US (even for a family emergency), you will have to get your visa re-stamped in the country of original application, and it may take months to get an appointment for this! As has been said, the US needs to make the fence high, but the gate wide. Clearly when people say that illegal immigrants are mostly law-abiding people, they are not. They have broken the law. However, they mostly wish to be law-abiding, and they should have the opportunity.
We need a system which allows in, as fast and simply as possible, those who have needed skills and work ethics. We have to make sure that we do not bring in so many that we depress salaries and wages for people in the US. We have to discourage people without those qualifications, while giving them hope if they have to stay in their own countries, and a clear path to follow should they wish to continue to pursue the dream of moving to America.

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