Marketplace Scratch Pad

Let ’em in or keep ’em out?

Scott Jagow Mar 27, 2009

There are few issues more sensitive than immigration, especially when millions of Americans are out of work. The Wall Street Journal points out that the US government has thrown up three new barriers to legal immigration.

One is that companies receiving bailout money face new hurdles to hiring skilled immigrants on H-1B visas. The second is a proposal to suspend an agricultural guest-worker program, known as the H-2A. Third, the State Department has asked seasonal employers, like hotels and resorts, to cut back on the use of J-1 visas to hire foreigners.

From the Journal:

With the unemployment rate at 8.1% and approaching double digits, the U.S. finds its longstanding quandary over immigration growing even more difficult. On one hand, fewer Americans have jobs and competition for available work is intensifying. On the other, the Obama administration says it wants to resist moves toward protectionism — at least in the trade of goods and services — and will push that view at next week’s London summit with the leaders of the Group of 20 nations.

I’ll be interested to see how Europe reacts. It’s dealing with the same issue. See this press release from the European Parliament:

The contribution that immigrants make and have made over decades has been a crucial part in the economic growth of the EU. However, much of the labour came from European countries that were not part of the EU. Nowadays, immigrants often come from another continent and managing the political, cultural and social challenges ahead is a daunting task.

Next week, the US government starts taking applications on H1-B visas for skilled workers. It’s widely thought that applications will be down this year, but immigration lawyers expect the 65,000 cap on H-1B’s will still be reached. Some people argue, considering the economy, the cap should be reduced or H1-B’s eliminated altogether. Let people come in through the regular immigration process.

That viewpoint from InfoWorld:

Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and more recently Panasonic and IBM — the flood of technology-related layoffs and firings isn’t slowing and, sadly, is likely to continue for some time. Given that reality, isn’t it time that the IT community speaks with one voice and demands that the government suspend — or at least greatly reduce and reshape — the H-1B visa program for the duration of the economic emergency?

Others argue that clamping down on H-1B’s might actually exacerbate the recession.
From Forbes:

It is irresponsible to cut out talented people with valuable minds at a time when our country and failing businesses need it most… Minimizing an international mix of perspectives and minds in the workplace is the first step towards diminishing the opportunity to discover a solution, which might actually help us get out of this mess.

Both sides have a sound argument, but I have a hard time seeing this in black and white. We do need sharp minds at a time like this, but there are plenty of sharp minds sitting on the bench already, waiting for a chance to get back in the game.

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