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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    An immigration attitude adjustment

    “”What does the Constitution do?””

    For most students, this is a pretty innocuous civics question. For immigrants taking the citizenship test to become legal Americans, however, a wrong answer carries a heavy penalty. In an election year, immigration reform – already a concern for many Americans – takes on even greater urgency, as politicians scramble to find a solution for a very thorny problem.

    The trouble is, while much attention is devoted to illegal immigration, very little is paid to problems in the legal immigration process. The New York Times reported last Friday that the director of the Department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported an 11-month increase, beginning in 2008, in the time it will take for immigrants to obtain visas and naturalization papers, in addition to a 66 percent hike in processing fees last year.

    Should it be easy to enter the United States? All countries have a right to protect their borders, and the U.S. is faced with a higher number of immigrants than many other nations. The problem is that in the era of globalization, the system we use for processing immigrants is strained attempting to balance an outdated view of immigration with a genuine need to import skilled, educated foreigners – and it’s the immigrants and American workers themselves who bear the cost.

    Currently, Citizenship and Immigration Services has five priority levels for employment-based immigration. The first level is reserved for “”aliens with extraordinary ability”” – the Einsteins unlucky enough to be born elsewhere, who are wanted for extraordinary talent or research ability. The hierarchy continues downward through highly skilled workers with advanced degrees and those working for religious organizations and so on, but things get complicated when those Einsteins have to navigate the U.S.’s Byzantine immigration bureaucracy.

    When my family emigrated from Toronto to the U.S. in the early 1990s and later applied for permanent residency, we were in a very lucky position: My parents were highly educated, we already spoke English and we had the financial means to hire an immigration lawyer to handle the paperwork for us. Nevertheless, it still took me until I was 16 years old to get my Green Card, despite living in the U.S. since I was two, because my parents didn’t have the right visas in order to apply.

    Among other things, my father’s employer had to demonstrate that there was no American who was more qualified for his job to justify hiring him, and my mother, a nurse practitioner, couldn’t even apply for permanent residency for a number of years, because becoming a nurse doesn’t always require a four-year degree.

    In comparison, imagine applying to study abroad at a foreign university. If the head of your program had to demonstrate to the school that there was not a single native student with your particular qualifications before you were allowed to attend, the process would be quite a bit more complicated than it is now – maybe even a disincentive to go at all.

    The U.S. reserves the right to make immigration as difficult or smooth a process as it sees fit, but the danger in creating so many administrative hurdles is a decrease in the diversity of skills and training within the American workforce. One of the great features of American universities is aggressive recruitment of talent from all over the world. This variety is an unquestionable asset for both foreigners who wish to emigrate to the U.S. and their colleagues, who have the chance to collaborate with people with very different backgrounds and training.

    Other industries are no different. Imagine a restaurant wanting to hire a Vietnamese chef to cook his native cuisine that is forced instead to hire and train an American, simply because there is no documented shortage of Vietnamese culinary experts and it doesn’t take four years at a university to learn how to cook. Such a policy probably wouldn’t sound the death knell of decent Vietnamese food in the U.S., but there is a significant loss of diversity and opportunity that results from this determination to hire everyone from within.

    Protection of jobs is important, but turning the legal immigration process into a logistical nightmare for those who want to enter the country in accordance with its laws seems vaguely like a punishment – one whose narrow set of criteria for entry may eventually drive talented workers elsewhere.

    Should the U.S. let anyone in who asks politely? Not necessarily. But just as there is room for improvement in most systems, there should be something better than what is currently available. It’s time to renovate the immigration process and bring its policies up to date. With a committed effort from politicians and other officials, it’s possible to screen entrants into the U.S. and prevent them from falling through the cracks in the bureaucracy.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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