It’s rare to find anything good to say about the Republican Party’s public policy ideas but I have to say they have a point when it comes to immigration reform.
The House GOP recently passed a bill that would allocate 55,000 permanent resident visas to foreign graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) from United States universities. It had very little Democratic support and no chance in the senate because Democrats consider it too narrow in scope.
Republicans are right to push immigration reform for its economic benefits and not just for the purpose of tackling the problem of long term illegal immigrants. And their emphasis on establishing a permanent resident track for foreign graduates of US universities is right on the money. There are several reasons why it makes sense.
First, US schools simply aren’t producing enough home-grown students in STEM to meet the needs of the labour market, a reflection in part of a continuing weakness in mathematics education in our K-12 system. Until we lick that problem, we will continue to depend on foreign workers to meet the needs of our information technology industry in particular.
Second, in the case of graduate students in STEM, we have already made a significant investment in the education of many foreign students through research and teaching assistantships. It makes little sense not to encourage these products of our excellent university system to remain in the US.
Finally, the demographics matter. The birth rate in America is slowing even among first generation immigrants. Encouraging young, US-educated foreigners to stay makes perfect sense.
In fact there’s a good argument for not limiting this reform to just STEM graduates but including others such as health occupations and business services such as accounting/finance. In this we should look to the experience of other countries. In Canada, for example, they have created the Canadian Experience Class for foreign nationals who have graduated from an accredited Canadian post-secondary institution and have accumulated at least one year of skilled work experience (the class also includes temporary foreign workers with a minimum of two years of skilled work experience but who have not necessarily graduated from a college or university). There are no restrictions on occupational field as long as it is at a sufficiently high skill level.
We could have our own “American Experience Class”. It would comprise foreign nationals who graduated from US colleges and universities and obtained qualifying post- graduation work experience immediately afterwards. Initially this would be by using the one year optional practical training (OPT) that is currently allowed all graduating foreign students. For graduates who exhaust their OPT, they should be fast-tracked for a new category of temporary workers that would not be counted under the H1B ceiling. After, say, two years of skilled employment in the US they would be eligible to apply for permanent residence.
In return for taking these post-graduate workers out of the H1B annual quota, the US businesses that benefit should pay towards STEM education in US schools, perhaps in the processing fees paid for each worker.
Legal immigration for foreign postsecondary graduates with work experience should be combined with the Democratic version of the Dream Act to allow those young foreign nationals who came to the US illegally as minors to apply for permanent residence. Together these proposals could be passed on a fast-track to give immediate benefit to the country as well as to these young foreign nationals who have so much to offer. The grittier and much harder work of addressing the problem of illegal immigrants who came to the US as adults will have to be tackled eventually, but after the easier bill has passed.
One pet peeve I have is the idea of immigrant selection by lottery. It really is the dumbest way to pick immigrants imaginable. The excuse I’ve heard is that we need to diversify the immigrant population. Rubbish! How many countries more diverse than America are there in the world? Not many. The notion that we owe it to Africa or Ireland or anywhere else a chance to win the lottery to come to America is ludicrous. The practice should be ended forthwith.
Sensible immigration reform is a must. Democrats should not imagine that the only sound ideas and priorities out there are their own.