In a recent post James Joyner considers a post at The Economist’s blog and, while he disagrees with some details of the post, agrees with the thrust of the post to the effect that our policy on immigration could learn something from Canada’s:
What is true, however, is that we go about the process strangely as compared to the Canadians and most other developed countries. We place a very high priority on family connections and a very low priority on skills. Some of the best and brightest from around the world come here for college and graduate school and then face major obstacles and staying here and contributing their skills to our society. Not only does a student visa not automatically confer the right to full-time employment but American firms have to justify hiring them through an elaborate process requiring certification that no Americans are available for the job. That’s just crazy.
While I agree with James that our immigration policy is irrational, I can’t help but wonder if Canada’s immigration policy shouldn’t be more like ours rather than the other way around. I would build my immigration policy around a single sentence which, while easy to write:
Our immigration policy should have as its primary priority the needs of the United States and its citizenry rather than the needs of recent or prospective immigrants.
is damnably hard to implement in law or policy for both political and practical reasons.
Let’s consider these two points, how do Canada’s and the U. S.’s immigration policies relate to the respective countries’ needs and what sort of policy would satisfy U. S. needs?
Canada has a land area roughly the same as that of the U. S. and a population 11% of the U. S.’s. You could bicker about how much of Canada’s enormous territory is actually livable but the fact remains that most of Canada is very sparsely settled. Even Canada’s big cities are more sparsely populated than ours:
Canada’s population is older than ours with a median age of 39.4 compared to the U. S. median age of 36.8. Three years may not seem like a lot but when considered in terms of the dependency ratio, it’s enormous. Canada clearly has a population bottleneck problem that can’t be solved by an increased birthrate (since more kids will also increase the dependency ratio in the short term).
In the United States incomes for those with less than a college degree have grown slowly (or even declined) for decades; I assume the situation is similar in Canada.
I won’t presume to suggest an immigration policy for Canada; I am not a Canadian. From my poorly informed biased U. S. point-of-view it looks to me as though Canada needs to import a significant number of people in their early thirties who have college degrees or better—a commodity for which there is substantial competition. I would think that the most likely place to turn for such a population would be Hong Kong or, perhaps, Singapore so I would not be at all surprised if British Columbia’s well-educated and well-heeled Chinese population rises over the coming years.
What would a rational immigration policy for the U. S. be? First, we need to abandon the priority of family reunification that has guided U. S. policy for nearly the last half century. We could use youngish immigrants with college degrees or better, too—I have some sympathy with the suggestion that every PhD or professional degree awarded in the United States to a foreign national should come with a green card stapled to it.
I think that we should increase the number of work visas available to Mexican nationals substantially on the one hand while enforcing our laws both in the workplace and at the border on the other. However, this shouldn’t be a long-term policy. The stagnant income levels and high unemployment rates of unskilled workers in the U. S. tell the story: we don’t need more unskilled workers in the U. S. and we shouldn’t subsidize business models that depend on a continuous new supply. I don’t find the prospect of a future U. S. that competes with China or Vietnam for who can pay the least to unskilled workers particularly appealing.