On Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a story about the 3 million jobs in America that remain unfilled because qualified applicants are unavailable. The fact that these jobs require skilled workers points to the fact that the US needs to bring in skilled workers from abroad or hope that enough Americans are willing to train for these positions. This challenge is at the heart of what will be a key debate in Comprehensive Immigration Reform regarding workers.
On the same day, a prominent Republican Senator discussed the need for a massive expansion of the temporary guest worker program. This will be the second element of the debate—i.e. should skilled workers come in on a permanent basis and eventually have a path to citizenship, or should the US instead limit their stay to a certain number of years, after which they must return home? This guest worker push is especially strong among conservatives with regards to unskilled jobs—i.e. the millions of so-called low-paying “dirty jobs” that are currently filled primarily by undocumented workers. Unions and immigrant rights groups detest the idea of guest worker provisions. Businesses appear neutral; what they want, many have told us, is a system that will allow them to access the workers they need for success. Be ready for a huge battle on this front.
Regarding investors, there seems to be common agreement that finding a way to bring new investment money into the US will be good for the economy and create more American jobs. However, because this is an area rife with potential fraud, it will not be an easy task to strike a balance between needed government oversight and entrepreneurial spirit.
Finally, when it comes to the future flow of immigration to the US, it is family related immigration that dwarfs the numbers associated with employment related classes. Great challenges and opportunities regarding the future flow of immigrants really rest in the family category. All sides agree on the need to and desire for preserving immediate family unity. A US Citizen or Permanent Resident should be able to sponsor their spouse and children. The trickier questions arise, however, about whether parents or siblings should be included in the equation. At a time of rising health care costs, crisis in Medicare and the Social Security trust fund, and provisions of Medicaid at the state level, the question arises of whether it makes sense for elderly individuals, who have paid nothing into the US system, to have the right to become a US Citizen simply because an adult child qualified for a Green Card. The same equation holds for brothers and sisters.
The important questions will be whether Congress has enough sense to get itself out of the allocation of numbers for Green Cards. In many countries, boards of experts determine a country’s needs and then adjust the immigration flow upward or downward to reflect the changing need. For instance, if it turns out that we have a massive shortage of skilled plumbers in the US, and it is important for our economy to have an infusion of plumbers to meet the shortage, it will be impossible for Congress to move deftly enough to meet the challenge. In many ways, this will be the stickiest part of the entire exercise related to immigration reform. How many foreign nations are admitted into the US, which categories, and from which countries, will determine the pace of America for generations to come.