Immigration Snapshot: Foreign Workers

Canada and Australia use an immigration point system.  The right age, skills, etc., can provide enough points to immigrate. Useful workers can move to those countries and make a go of it.

(Canadian and Australian lawmakers may not be as efficient as the free market in allocating labor, but they get some things right.  I remember when Canada gave 10 immigration points to cooks, and 1 point to lawyers!)

In contrast, most workers coming to the U.S. have to be sponsored by an employer.  The law is protectionist, so with few exceptions, if a third-rate American is available, the boss is not allowed to hire a first-rate foreigner.

Joey at Work

If a sponsored worker refuses to take abuse, the employer can end its sponsorship.  Bye-bye foreigner.  So foreign workers keep quiet.

Unskilled workers rarely qualify for sponsorship, even if we need them.

Consider the foreign farmer bankrupted by U.S. government-subsidized exports.  He can’t get a visa so he is barred from working on our farms.  Yet if he stays home, he and his family starve.  Meanwhile, the U.S. farmer can’t find Americans who’ll work at legal wages that keep food affordable, so she either hires unauthorized workers or her crops rot.

This lack of visas for vital “unskilled” workers also is a disaster for the working parent who can’t find a good nanny, and for companies that can’t find people with the talents they need.

Unauthorized workers outperform many Americans.  They willingly do jobs that Americans shun.  (Beginning last June, the United Farm Workers Take Our Jobs campaign offered to find farm work for some of our 14 million unemployed Americans.  Their Web site got millions of hits, but by late September only seven Americans had accepted that UFW offer.)  Foreign workers often are experienced and not easily replaced.  No wonder; 60% of America’s unauthorized foreigners have been here for more than 10 years.

How did they survive here for so long?  They worked hard.  So they know their jobs.  Contrary to myth, they pay taxes.  They spend their earnings, providing profits for American businesses.  The money they send to their native countries enables their relatives to stay home, which ought to please those who oppose immigration.  They also make work (or is it make-work?) for a huge non-productive industry: judges and lawyers, public and private jailers, border guards and compliance officers, bureaucrats and caterers and shackle makers, whose professional lives depend on a steady stream of vulnerable labor from abroad and on taxpayer money to keep the immigration enforcement industry afloat.

Putting aside questions of ethics – which we’ll address another day – economists say that unauthorized foreign workers boost our economy, and their tax contributions outweigh their consumption of public services, by billions of dollars per year.

But under U.S. law, none of this matters.  These workers are banned, hounded, and rounded up as fast as we can find space for them in jail.  Then we expel them without regard to the needs of their families, employers, customers and communities.

For a country whose people supposedly believe in meritocracy and free markets, in keeping the best and the brightest on our team, this is crazy.