Fixing Employment-Based Immigration: An Idea from North of the Border

Though it’s still too early to say for sure, the November elections appear to have broken the stalemate on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), and politicians on both sides are actively talking up the possibility. Opinions vary as to what the overhaul legislation should contain, but there is widespread agreement that something needs to be done – and fast – about worker shortages in industries ranging from IT to agriculture.

After all, labor markets are no longer strictly national; there is fierce global competition for the best and brightest workers, and many other countries are working hard to attract highly skilled talent. It is important for Congress to consider this context when rewriting U.S. immigration law. A recent Bloomberg News article warns that U.S. immigration policy is now “behind the curve” compared with other countries. [See Canada Shows How U.S. States Can Fix Immigration, by Shikha Dalmia, Bloomberg News, 28.Nov.2012.]

To survive and flourish in this increasingly competitive environment, the article suggests, we make it easier for the best and brightest to come here and work. The Bloomberg article cites the examples of Canada and Australia, which:

“… skip the temporary work-visa step completely and offer fast-track permanent residencies to highly skilled workers and their spouses before they even arrive in the country. Australia offers almost as many employment-based green cards as the U.S., even though the American population is 14 times bigger.”

According to Bloomberg News, Canada provides work-based permanent residence for up to 130,000 foreign workers each year, allocating 55,000 slots through the federal government in Ottawa, while reserving 75,000 slots for a so-called provincial-nominee program, under which “each province can pick whomever it wants for whatever reason – in effect, to use its quota, which is based on population, to write its own immigration policy.” This gives each province a chance to match the labor supply more closely to local demands.

Immigration reform is still a tough sell in some parts of the United States, and building a degree of local self-determination into the immigration system might broaden the support for comprehensive reform. The article also suggests it could bring about a moment of truth for politicians who have been dining out on their anti-immigrant credentials in recent years:

“Under such a system, states such as Arizona, where restrictionist fervor runs high, would certainly be free to spurn foreigners. Yet they would have to face the economic and political consequences as businesses relocate to where workers are plentiful.”

At this writing, nobody is suggesting that Congress will change our PERM labor system to mirror Canada’s, but Congress would be well advised to learn more about how other industrialized countries structure their immigration systems, for two reasons: it might provide some valuable new ideas, and in any case, it would give Congress a better understanding of the international playing field on which we’re competing for the world’s best and brightest.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.