Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Immigrants Wanted

News continues to pour in about the looming labor shortage crisis. British Columbia frames the issue in terms of productivity and increasing immigration is offered as part of the solution. Thus, news of Canada's rapid advancement of initiatives to do just that shouldn't come as a shock. But before critics of US immigration policy bemoan the sluggish response here, consider possible drawbacks to the initiative:

First, this new class does not address – and may further exacerbate – existing problems of excessively long waiting lists for overseas immigration applicants.

Second, and even more disquieting, this new ‘class’ promotes unequal access to the protection and rights attributed to Canadian permanent residents by excluding lower-skilled labourers who also make important contributions to the Canadian economy and society and who comprise the majority of temporary permit holders. It is important to ask whether Canada wants to advance a system with differential paths to citizenship based largely on the fluctuating economic valuation of certain types of knowledge.

Lastly, it also seems probable that this new fast-track scheme will become an admissions strategy for young migrants able to afford the expense of studying as an international student in Canada. While the financial picture for international students is complex, varying from high tuition fees for most undergraduate studies to receiving scholarships for funded graduate students, the financial accessibility to this potential route to citizenship complicates the already unclear picture wherein international students are desired for their future ambassadorial roles, for their financial contributions to individual institutions, and/or for their potential economic input as desired young researchers and future ‘knowledge workers’.

I'm not confident that I fully understand that last sentence, but I think the point is that countries such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom still lack focus about how to leverage the presence of foreign-born students at domestic universities. Pinning down talent in order to generate a geographic dividend is notoriously difficult. The interests of the community, the students, and the university are far from aligned, pulling immigration policy in different directions.

A clear common benefit to all stakeholders is still missing from the policy equation. The United Kingdom is struggling to convince their citizens of the benefits of immigration, fueling the boomerang migration to countries such as Poland. In the United States, native tech workers are skeptical of industry's cry for more talent. And shrinking state support of public universities has schools scrambling for revenue in order to maintain excellence in research. Meanwhile, the geographic mobility of talent continues to increase, perhaps making this debate moot.

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