Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Competing For Immigrants

I've collected more immigration blog fodder than I can use in one post. Some good references may not make the cut, but I'm sure the issue will re-emerge at some point in the near future. I'll cut to the chase for those of you (like me) who consume a lot of media. (Via Global Immigration Counsel) The war for talent is heating up:

Indian IT firms have boosted operations in Mexico in recent years to serve Latin American and U.S. customers. One advantage to doing so involves the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which enables Mexican and Canadian professionals to work in the U.S. without an H-1B visa.

In other words, Indian firms could send employees to Mexico, and then move some of their Mexican workers to the U.S. under the auspices of the treaty. The Mexican workers would not need an H-1B visa to work in the U.S., though they would need what's called a TN visa. That visa is available to Mexican and Canadian nationals who qualify under a number of professional categories and meet specific education and experience requirements.

If Indian companies set up a visa safety net in Mexico it will be because of concerns about legislation from U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), and Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.). Of particularly concern is the bill's so-called "50-50" rule that limits the number of workers on H-1B or L-1 visas to half of a firm's total U.S. headcount. The majority of Indian companies in the U.S. have far more people working with visas than not.

The NAFTA benefit -- essentially allowing Indian companies to move relatively lower cost workers in and out of the U.S. without the H-1B visa -- was cited this week by Phaneesh Murthy, president and CEO of IT services firm iGate Corp., in Fremont Calif. IGate has the majority of its 6,500-plus workforce in India.

Murthy told analysts during an earnings call that U.S. visa restrictions could prompt his company to increase work in Mexico.

"We will probably utilize a higher growth in our Mexican center by having more people come from Mexico to the U.S., where they don't need the H-1B because of being part of NAFTA," said Murthy, according to a transcript on the financial site Seeking Alpha. "So, I think our business models will change and we are ready for those changes in business model," he said.

This at a time when the exodus of foreign born skilled labor from the United States is setting records. If I read the threat correctly, then we might expect the IT industry to be flooded with even cheaper labor. Paging Ross Perot and the giant sucking sound.

While we are busy pushing jobs to Mexico, Australia is aggressively courting Indian talent:

The Australian minister for immigration and citizenship Chris Evans, who is in New Delhi, in the wake of widespread violent attacks against Indian students in Australia, told ET that in view of the ageing workforce in Australia, the government was increasingly looking to attract Indian IT, engineering and medical professionals as permanent residents under the skilled stream migration programme (SSMP).

Australia has its own problems with anti-immigrant backlash. But that doesn't stop the government from addressing what is a demographic crisis. So, I can't simply blame the constituency for America's brain dead immigration policies.

Attracting talent is hard work. Even if you could drum up enough local support, how would you go about increasing immigration to your shrinking city? Ask North Bay, Ontario:

North Bay is increasingly being viewed as a collaborative model for smaller communities in Ontario because of its successes with immigrant attraction and retention.

The latest example is the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) three-city immigrant attraction and retention case study community project including North Bay, Brockville and Chatham-Kent. North Bay is seen as the furthest advanced of the three. Results of this project will contribute to government policy aimed at encouraging immigrants to settle in communities other than Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Successes to date are not by accident. They are by design," says Mayor Vic Fedeli.

Read more about North Bay and immigration here. (There is even a Pittsburgh connection) The point being that the Rust Belt could do something similar if the region had the political will to do so. I don't think enough stakeholders and voters appreciate the talent shortage problem.

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