Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Needed Piece of Immigration Reform

In Tom Friedman's column today, he repeats one of his favorite themes: altering visa standards for high-end workers. He's right about it, and it's especially relevant in light of possibly passing comprehensive immigration reform.

"It is pure idiocy that Congress will not open our borders — as wide as possible — to attract and keep the world’s first-round intellectual draft choices in an age when everyone increasingly has the same innovation tools and the key differentiator is human talent. I’m serious. I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship. I want them. The idea that we actually make it difficult for them to stay is crazy."

The current immigration system makes it easy for low-wage workers to enter and stay in the country. It not only rarely punishes illegality (for workers and the businesses that hire them), but depresses wages on the low end.

Far less discussed, our laws make it harder for high-end workers to enter and stay in the country. So many top students from around the world study in America's first-by-a-mile university system, and then head back home. Now there's nothing wrong with that, and it's good for the economies of their home countries, but we should not aid their decisions, and make it harder for those who want to stay here to do so. Highly qualified workers in technology- and science-related fields are key drivers of today's economies.

The low percentage of graduate degrees in those fields go to American-born students is a problem for another day.

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