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Land of Opportunity?

I just finished reading nine pages of regulations in Section 42 of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual 9. I was trying to understand how we came to have such an unworkable immigration system. I was dismayed by what I found. Without exaggeration, the regulation makes it clear we hate the free market, democracy and the idea of competition and opportunity. I counted a staggering 131 different categories of immigrant visas. In spite of two graduate degrees in public policy, I struggled to begin to understand the relationships and requirements between the 131 categories, the different government offices which were referred to, and the forms, which I gave up trying to count. Even worse, the enabling legislation for the bureaucratic ridiculousness was written in 2009.

Does anyone believe that there is or was some compelling governmental interest for such detailed micro-management of American labor markets? Does anyone believe that the U.S. Congress is so clairvoyant that they accurately predicted the labor and immigration needs of our society with such amazing precision six years into the future? Of course not. The American economy has jobs and needs today that didn’t exist in 2009. The actual labor needs are dynamic and moving at the speed of business, changing hourly. Our federal government is designed to move slowly, to not be reactionary — in other words, it is not designed to manage the minutiae of markets.

There is a legitimate government interest in regulating certain aspects of immigration: protecting national security, safeguarding public health, ensuring that the taxpayers don’t incur some additional obligation. We can even choose to take these things to extremes. National security interests are easily protected using background checks, biometric registration, better on-going self-reporting, etc. We can and should require medical screening; if we want to be very careful, simply use the same tests and standards we use to screen for military service. Protect the taxpayers – link immigration to a valid job offer, that includes benefits, then hold the immigrant and the employer accountable for fulfillment. Make sponsoring employers, not the taxpayers, responsible for the costs associated with any screening. But the Congress and State Department cannot and should not attempt to manage the supply and demand of the market through unworkable bureaucracy written a decade in advance of the moment of execution. We need to stop this direct, aggressive attack on the free market and long-held principles of what America is and stands for in the world – a land of opportunity.



    • Ben, thanks so much for the comment. I’d like to understand a little bit more about what you mean, here? Which needs of which U.S. citizens? America needs tens of thousands more engineers than we can produce, and we need them yesterday. We will need 40,000 more concrete masons in the next few years. There’s no salad in America without immigrant labor. In all segments of our economy, we can’t move to the next level without immigration. We are in a fantastic position in that we can attract the very best the world has to offer. We can’t be afraid of competition – without exception, protectionism causes people and economies to settle for less than their very best. That said, it’s entirely possible that I missed the point you were making, or I’ve overlooked some key aspect of the issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Best, Brian


      • Hey Brian, I’ve no problem with immigrant labor. I just wanted to point out that your post looks at immigration regulations (byzantine they are!) from a singular perspective, that of the U.S.-based employer.


      • Ben, that’s a fair comment. While there may be a legitimate case for asylum cases or other circumstances, I would assume we would want a system that primarily brings people here to be productive members of society. I tried, but maybe didn’t do a good job, to discuss the legitimate government functions in all of this: not letting in security risks, protecting public health and ensuring employers and immigrants follow through on their commitments. That said, I think it’s an important topic and I’d welcome your suggestions for other areas of research or varied perspectives. Thanks again – Brian


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