Economist: more high-skilled immigration, please

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  • 3% of the world’s population has moved outside their native lands

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  • Create more high-skilled immigrants and reduce number of slots for extended family reunification of low-skilled immigrants @michaelbarone

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  • High-skilled immigrants increasingly choose to stay home in Latin countries where growth is robust @michaelbarone

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As I’m working to finish the manuscript for a book on American migrations, internal as well as immigrant, I was interested to read the cover story and leader (Brit for editorial) in this week’s Economist on “the magic of diasporas.” It notes that 215 million people, 3% of the world’s population, has moved outside their native lands and, if they were a separate nation, would rank number five in population, after Indonesia and before Brazil. The article focuses particularly on the Chinese diaspora, which dates back at least two centuries but continues to be the major conduit for foreign direct investment in China, and the Indian diaspora, which also goes back more than a century but is on most dazzling display today in Silicon Valley. Diasporas are a source of communication of ideas—two-way communication, since expatriate Chinese and Indians have sparked new ways of governance and doing business in China and India which, you should not need to be told, have one-third of the world’s population and have been increasingly the engines of world economic growth.

The Economist eschews bylines, but it is no secret that these articles are the work of business editor Robert Guest, formerly chief correspondent in Washington. There’s an audio interview with him on the Economist website and he has had a book just published on the subject, Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism, required reading at least for me.

I find myself in general agreement on these matters, but I note that the concentration here is almost entirely on high-skill immigration. Very little is said of low-skill immigration, which quantitatively has represented the majority of immigrants to the United States in the two heavy immigration decades from apout 1986 to 2007, when immigration slacked off, maybe even to zero, with the financial crisis and deep recession. We have tended to get low-skill immigrants from Latin America, especially from Mexico; higher-skill people have increasingly tended to stay home, particularly in recent years when growth has been robust compared to the United States in Latin countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

What does all this mean for U.S. immigration policy? The Economist echoes my plaint in my most recent (October 18) Examiner column on the issue that both the Republicans calling for a border fence and border controls (after the flow of immigration has been falling toward zero) and Democrats telling Latino voters they really, really tried to pass a comprehensive immigration bill (they didn’t, preferring to pass cap and trade and Obamacare instead) are addressing a status quo that no longer exists. What we need to do now, I think, is to create more openings for high-skill immigrants while reducing the number of slots for extended family reunification for low-skill immigrants, and as I noted in the column Congress (though no the Obama administration) seems to be taking some steps in that direction. The Economist, while not addressing low-skill immigration, seems to be taking a similar view.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI

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