Thursday, March 22, 2012

US Talent Trade

The debate over immigration reform in the United States is heating up. One prize is landing a piece of the Irish brain drain. Both Australia and Canada are very active on this front. US Senator Scott Brown is trying to get his country in the game:

Brown's bill would make Irish nationals eligible for a special visa program created in 2005 to allow up to 10,500 high-skilled Australians to come to the United States on temporary work visas known as E-3 visas. The program grew out of a trade pact with Australia, but it was also seen as a reward for a country that supported U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The program allows skilled workers with job offers from U.S. employers to get a two-year work visa that can be renewed indefinitely.

Workers with an E-3 visa can bring their spouses and children with them. Their spouses also can work legally in the United States.

Emphasis added. Talent flows are packaged with trade issues. Countries trade food, manufactured goods, ideas, and people. Yet the talent economy is often left out of the discussion.

If you don't understand how the talent economy works, then good luck making sense of how accepting more Australian talent is a reward for Australia. Like every other country around the world, Australia frets about brain drain. That's the populist position. Policymakers recognize the value in exporting talent. That's a tough sell to your constituency. The same is true for importing talent. From the same article:

Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which wants to reduce immigration, said Brown's bill will end up hurting American workers of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

"Why would you want to bring in 10,500 more foreign workers at a time when we've got 20 million Americans who either can't find jobs or are forced to take part-time jobs when they want to work full-time," Beck said. "Brown's bill is about pandering. It's a form of pork-barreling. Once one special interest gets their pork, the others will all be lined up. In the meantime, Americans of every ethnicity are looking for a job."

Beck is employing a protectionist argument. Native talent is more important than foreign born talent. It's autarky. This same anti-immigrant sentiment is found in communities throughout the United States. Outside talent, whether from another county, state, or country, is not welcome. Locals first.

Localism is fundamentally anti-economic development. Parochialism suffocates creativity and innovation. The inward orientation impoverishes the community. You can see the endgame of this approach in North Korea. A place without migration is a dying place.

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