Inspired by this post from Ezra Klein, I’ve been mean to tackle the absurdity of our immigration policies again for a while, but I keep not getting around to it because I keep reading/experiencing more and I’ve got a bad habit of putting off big posts. So, let’s see if we can keep this relatively short (more links, less excerpts, maybe). Ezra’s basic point: we make it really easy for foreigners to come here and earn engineering degrees and PhD’s, but then we make it really hard for them to stay. Say what you will about our problems with illegal immigration from south of the border, but this is just nuts. Why in the world should we be turning away highly qualified, ambitious people who want to work in this country? Anybody who thinks that’s a good idea understands less than zero about how the economy works.
I’ve mentioned before my highly skilled, educated, and talented Canadian friend who keeps relying on temporary visas. Meanwhile, his wife who used to be a pretty skilled employee herself is legally forbidden from any work whatsoever. Just this weekend, I learned that the hard-working and capable PhD who runs the distance education programs for NCSU’s School of Public and International Affairs is heading back to Turkey to take his talents there, because apparently it is proving impossible for his wife to be hear legally. Argh!
Apparently, even Jonah Lehrer is so frustrated by the absurdity of this that he’s moved beyond neuroscience for a recent column to talk about just how incredibly short-sighted this all is:
Consider some recent data. The U.S. Patent Office says immigrants invent patents at roughly double the rate of non-immigrants, which is why a 1% increase in immigrants with college degrees leads to a 15% rise in patent production. (In recent years, immigrant inventors have contributed to more than a quarter of all U.S. global patent applications.) These immigrants also start companies at an accelerated pace, co-founding 52% of Silicon Valley firms since 1995. It’s no accident that immigrants founded or co-founded many of the most successful high-tech companies in America, such as Google, Intel and eBay.
Why is immigration so essential for innovation? Immigrants bring a much-needed set of skills and interests. Last year, foreign students studying on temporary visas received more than 60% of all U.S. engineering doctorates. (American students, by contrast, dominate doctorate programs in the humanities and social sciences.)
These engineering students drive economic growth. According to the Department of Labor, only 5% of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, but they’re responsible for more than 50% of sustained economic expansion (growth that isn’t due to temporary or cyclical factors). These people invent products that change our lives, and in the process, they create jobs.
But the advantages of immigration aren’t limited to those with particular academic backgrounds. In recent years, psychologists have discovered that exposing people to different cultures, either through travel abroad or diversity in their hometown, can also make them more creative. When we encounter other cultures we become more willing to consider multiple interpretations of the same thing. Take leaving food on one’s plate: In China, it’s often a compliment, signaling that the host has provided enough to eat. But in America it can suggest that the food wasn’t good.
Why, why, why? Ezra’s post concludes:
This is one of those policy problems that’s very easy to solve as a technical matter — just let these students stay — but very difficult to solve as a political matter.
So who are these morons in Congress so scared of these “imgrants” that they keep/put in place policies that make it increasingly harder for the best and brightest of other nations to help grow our economy? Seriously. I’m no immigration policy expert so I’d really like to know just what the argument people are making that drives such an amazingly counter-productive policy.