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A Different Perspective on Educated Immigrants June 14, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Few issues in technology are more emotional than that of immigration and work visas.  That is especially true these days, with unemployment at highs for the US (although relatively low for the rest of the developed world).  Even with tech unemployment at less than five percent, if you are one of those five percent, resentment may be a natural emotion.

And there is no question that there have been abuses, especially in the tech services industries, where skill sets are more equivalent and pay is more fungible.  Without getting into detail, while US law requires prevailing wage standards for given jobs, there are loopholes that can be taken advantage of, should a company wish to do so.  Companies also have a limited ability to move employees and work internationally under other immigration statues that have the net effect of replacing local talent with less expensive immigrant or overseas talent.

That doesn’t mean that high tech work visas and subsequent residency aren’t a positive force for our country.  I have no doubt that the vast majority of companies using the various work visas available do so honestly, and the recipients are paid prevailing wages for their position and skills.  And there is no question in my mind that the energy and perspectives brought by tech work visa recipients more than justifies having a liberal immigration policy.

Which brings me to this insightful column in which Michael Elliott makes a couple of very reasonable points concerning the immigration and visa debate.  One point is that those clamoring for more work visas in the name of competitiveness are probably being disingenuous about their motives.  Why?

“If a nation cannot be competitive when it accounts for nearly a quarter of world output, sits on abundant natural resources, has most of the world’s best universities, and has had a stable constitutional system for some 200 years, a supposed shortage of computer scientists is the least of our worries.”

In the large sense, I’d say he has a point.

The other interesting perspective he raises is that we should be looking at the impact of immigration not only on our society, but on the societies where our immigrants are coming from.  He notes that whereas our society may gain from educated immigrants, the societies they are leaving are in many cases harmed.  I confess that my thinking on the subject has been geared entirely toward benefits to the US, rather than considering costs to other countries.

As the grandson of immigrants who came to America from Eastern Europe at the dawn of the 20th century to work in coal mines and steel mills, I believe viscerally in immigration as a means to diversity and new ideas.  Because I don’t think there are a set number of jobs (because clever people create new and different jobs), I believe that the role of immigration in our society is largely a positive one.  But just as it’s not a completely positive one for the US, it’s certainly not positive from countries losing that talent.

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