Immigration Arbitrage: Getting the Mix Right24 Aug 2012
To those who follow immigration law and policy, it’s a familiar argument: America needs an immigration system that’s more sensitive to our economic needs, not just to the prevailing political winds. The long-running fight between immigrant advocates and restrictionists has yet to produce any workable compromise at the political level; meanwhile, other countries are poised to snap up the best and brightest foreign workers who might have come to the United States, if only the immigration system made room for them.
In a recent article in Forbes, Joel Kotkin starts with these familiar premises, but adds a twist: what he calls “immigration arbitrage.”
“Rather than an issue of ‘values’ or political sentiment, we need to look at immigration as a matter of arbitrage, a process by which rapidly aging countries bid for the skills and energies of newcomers to keep their economies afloat.” [See “U.S. Desperately Needs Immigrants and a Strategy to Get the Right Ones, by Joel Kotkin, Forbes.com, 26.Jun.2012.]
Europe, says Kotkin, is heavily dependent on immigration arbitrage because its population is rapidly aging, and many native-born workers are looking abroad for job opportunities that are lacking at home. He points to Germany and Italy as prime examples, both importing thousands of workers from southern and eastern Europe to make up for labor shortfalls at home. We should learn from their example, Kotkin argues, but also from their mistakes:
“…immigration arbitrage is more than a simple numbers game. As Europe learned through its bitter experience with immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, importing populations without necessary skills and attitudes useful for the modern economy can produce unhappy results. The key issue it how to attract and select immigrants likely to contribute to the national well-being and economic competitiveness.”
Here, Kotkin is not just talking about attracting brilliant scientists, engineers, and mathematicians from other countries; he says our immigration system also needs to make more room for entrepreneurs, not to mention skilled laborers like CNC machine tool operators. This also might include unskilled and semiskilled workers needed to do jobs in construction and agriculture.
Kotkin does not argue for eliminating family reunification as a cornerstone of our immigration system, but he does think that economic considerations – like employable skills – should factor more heavily in determining who gets a U.S. visa. That may be so, but to change the current balance, you’d have to break the ongoing political deadlock over immigration reform – and neither side shows any sign of yielding.
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