Only dummies ignore benefits of foreign brainpower

Guest Column:
Noah Smith
It’s difficult to believe passionately in an issue that almost nobody cares about, and when those that do care usually disagree with you. But life is hard, so here I am: a passionate believer in letting more high-skilled workers immigrate to the United States. More

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OP-ED / LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Only dummies ignore benefits of foreign brainpower

Guest Column:
Noah Smith
Posted 7/14/14

It’s difficult to believe passionately in an issue that almost nobody cares about, and when those that do care usually disagree with you. But life is hard, so here I am: a passionate believer in letting more high-skilled workers immigrate to the United States.

There’s really no natural constituency for high-skilled immigration. The potential immigrants themselves aren’t in the country yet. High-skilled Americans are afraid that high-skilled immigrants will take their jobs and depress their wages (though the evidence says this isn’t really true). And of course the low-skilled Americans don’t even have the issue on their radar.

The closest thing to a constituency for high-skilled immigration is Silicon Valley, because tech companies naturally want plentiful, cheap high-skilled employees. And Silicon Valley has done an admirable job of lobbying over time for increasing the number of H-1B visas. The problem is that H-1B holders aren’t actually immigrants – they’re guest workers.

H-1B holders are at a large disadvantage with respect to permanent residents with green cards or citizens when it comes to job mobility and negotiating leverage with their employers. The H-1B program isn’t indentured servitude, but it isn’t immigration either.

What about the political parties? Some people have suggested that the Democratic Party is holding high-skilled immigration policy hostage, demanding a deal on illegal immigration as part of the package. Vox recently suggested the exact opposite – that Republicans might be willing to cut a deal on high-skilled immigration, but only in exchange for a crackdown on undocumented workers. Either way, don’t expect much progress here.

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