Sunday, February 15, 2009

Economic Myopia

If you are banking on the economic stimulus package, then you better hire Americans:

As a result of the conference agreement, [US Senator Bernie Sanders] said in a statement Friday that he expects the H-1B provisions to be adopted along with the rest of the stimulus bill. He added that what may have prompted the negotiators to keep the H-1B restrictions in the bill were all of the ongoing layoffs and other job losses. "With thousands of financial services workers unemployed, it is absurd for banks to claim they can't find qualified American workers," Sanders said.

Given the preference for US workers in the H-1B visa provisions, Sanders makes a good point. However, additional language in the bailout bill is also redundant and sends protectionist signals to the rest of the world. Furthermore, local labor market shortages may result in the inabilit to find qualified American workers.

But the real problem with the Sanders-Grassley crusade is that it is shortsighted. Consider the trip Alberta government officials are taking to Germany next month:

Alberta's slumping economy --pummelled by low commodity prices and a global credit crunch -- didn't dissuade the province from returning to the job fairs. Instead, Employment and Immigration spokeswoman Janice Schroeder said the government has altered its message from previous years, when many Alberta employers were desperately short of workers.

"We'll be talking about keeping Alberta on the radar. If you're thinking of moving for work, maybe not this year, certainly keep us in mind." ...

... [Evelyn Ackah, an immigration lawyer at the Calgary firm of Fraser Milner Casgrain,] also suggested mandatory layoffs could discourage some foreigners from coming to Canada, which in the long-term needs new immigrants, and some argue temporary workers, to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers.

The looming talent shortage is very real and established migration patterns will be critical once the economy begins to recover. Certainly, oil prices can skyrocket once again and spark another boom in Alberta. Now is a good time to aggressively court foreign-born workers who are also coping with layoffs and a collapsing real estate market.

No comments: