Find the latest episode of "The Uncertain Hour" here. Listen

No ‘path to citizenship’ for professionals

Marketplace Staff May 22, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The speeches have died down. But Congress is still grinding away on immigration reform. The Senate’s expected to pass its version this week. It’ll probably have some kind of guest worker program. And a way for some illegal immigrants to become citizens. Not all of them, though. Attorney and documented immigrant Ilya Shapiro for one.

ILYA SHAPIRO: If Congress ever passes its immigration reform, I’m giving up my legal career and getting a job that actually lets me become a U.S. citizen. Like gardening. Or construction.

Because I’m sure not going to get a green card the way I’m going: English-speaking, highly educated, law-abiding, patriotic. . . .

You see, no matter how hard I work, how good I am at my job, how much I love this country and its people, I’ll never get the same deal certain illegal aliens will under any reform proposal.

Everything President Bush or the Senate have come up with would allow certain unskilled laborers to obtain work visas.

As these visas run out, those who are still gainfully employed would be able to apply for permanent residence and eventually citizenship.

This seems perfectly reasonable. Even if you don’t grant any amnesty, there should be some mechanism for importing workers for jobs that can’t be filled by Americans at prices American employers can afford to pay.

If these “guest-workers” prove themselves to be good citizens, they should be able to become, well, citizens.

The problem for high-level professional workers is that our visas don’t work that way.

Under provisions that won’t change, we can work for a particular employer for six years. After that, unless the employer agrees to the root canal surgery that is green card sponsorship, and can prove that no American possesses the minimal qualifications for that job, we have to leave the country.

There is no so-called “path to citizenship”— and thus, for me, no way to fulfill my dream: to serve my adopted country.

Despite living here my entire adult life, my fancy degrees, despite having worked for a senator, a federal judge, and a presidential campaign, I can’t apply for the legal and policy making jobs for which this country has trained me.

I can’t even serve the country I love as a military lawyer in Iraq — or even enlist as an infantryman.

That’s why my resolution to come in on the ground floor of the landscaping business is only partly in jest. But why have such perverse incentives in the first place?

RYSSDAL: Russian-born attorney Ilya Shapiro writes a column for

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.