The United States possesses a number of competitive assets in the global war for talent: most notably, its huge and flexible labor market and an abundance of leading-edge multinational corporations and world-class universities. However, the United States also faces growing competition in the global labor market from other countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as from the expanding economic opportunities available in the home countries of Indian and Chinese professionals who constitute a vital talent pool for U.S. high-tech companies. These trends underscore the need to revamp U.S. immigration policies to make them more responsive to the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy.
Yet the quota-based immigration system of the United States diminishes the country’s ability to sustain, let alone expand, inflows of high-skilled immigrants. The optimal remedy for this defect in U.S. immigration policy is to replace the H1-B visa program for highly skilled foreign professionals with a quality-selective regime along the lines of the point-based systems introduced in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The United Kingdom is moving in this direction, away from a work-permit regime to a multi-tiered system that would entitle high-skilled immigrants to work for any British employer or to set up their own businesses in the country. However, the political environment in the United States—where homeland security concerns remain acute five years after September 11th and the furor over undocumented immigration clouds the separate issue of skilled immigration—provides little cause for optimism that such a policy reform will soon materialize.
For the undocumented in America there is little doubt that the iniquities of the father are visited upon the child. On November 7th, for instance, an astounding 71 percent of voters in Arizona passed a referendum (Proposition 300) which states that only U.S. citizens and legal residents are eligible for in-state college tuition rates, tuition and fee waivers, and financial assistance. These are kids brought by their parents to this country as young children, in many instances infants in their mothers’ arms, and in every instance as children for whom the decision to come here was made without their participation. And yet, they shall pay the price, perhaps with their futures. The same referendum would deny childcare to the U.S.-citizen children of undocumented parents. Yes, the child is a citizen of the United States, but voters in Arizona have concluded that to provide the child with care is to reward the parents for the sin of seeking a better life in America.
One question that recently received heightened attention from lawmakers is whether or not immigrants should be admitted to the United States less on the basis of family ties and more on the basis of the skills they can contribute to the U.S. economy. Although some of the practices associated with a point-based immigration system might benefit the U.S. economy, policymakers should be careful not to assume that such a system would be a panacea for the widespread dysfunction of U.S. immigration policies.
In this IPC Policy Brief, author Rob Paral uses new census data to update his earlier IPC report (Playing Politics on Immigration: Congress Favors Image over Substance in Passing H.R. 4437) on the number of undocumented immigrants in U.S. congressional districts.
Access to an independent judiciary with the power to hold the government accountable in its dealings with individuals is a founding principle of the United States. In contrast, imagine a system where there is no access to independent judgment; where, instead, the referee works for the opposing team. The House of Representatives took a step away from this founding principle by passing the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437) on December 16, 2005. A provision of the bill would erode access to independent judgment by severely restricting access to the federal courts for individuals in removal (deportation) proceedings. This provision is part of a long string of efforts by proponents of restrictive immigration policies to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts over immigration cases.
The most striking thing about today’s immigration debate is how many times America has been here before—and how many times it has made the same mistakes. With respect to David Letterman, here is a list of the biggest errors that U.S. policymakers have made in designing immigration policy. As Congress wrestles to find the right mix of immigration enforcement and immigration reform, it should keep in mind what it has done wrong in the past so that it has a chance to get it right this time.