Thursday, March 7, 2013

Please America, make it easier for legal immigrants

One British expat in America says his new country should be more welcoming to newcomers who often create jobs and wealth

I'm an immigrant. Many years ago, we packed up our house in Hampshire, England, and set sail for the colonies, braving weeks on the open sea, risking attacks by pirates and privateers, all in the hope of a new life in a distant land where the streets were paved with gold. Well, actually we took the M25 to Heathrow, got diverted to Gatwick, and flew the Pond in the hands of a friendly TWA crew. But regardless, we became immigrants in America.

And, from personal experience, regardless of how welcoming and friendly the American people were, and are, the immigration system is severely broken in the USA. Our first experience of it was on my first visit. The abusive nature of the customs official was eye-opening and intimidating. Luckily, that attitude of "if I don't like you, you're back on the plane" was limited to the official. The people in the Midwest could not have been nicer.

My next experience with the immigration system was after we had waited in line for a number of years, and our green card applications were approved. This time it was an official at the US Embassy in London. I think if he had his way, we'd have been hauled off in irons for some fun waterboarding in the basement. Fortunately, our lawyer got involved, called his boss, and at 5.29pm, one minute before the embassy closed, the official begrudgingly approved our immigrant petition, and we were on our way to the US as permanent residents.

And, as a legal immigrant, I watched the ongoing debate, and sometimes pure vitriol, surrounding immigration. There is the positioning by both sides, the special interest groups that take an all-or-nothing approach. And there are the children who never knew they weren't born here and the families who risked their lives to enter the land of opportunity, albeit illegally. And finally, those who refused to break the law and sought to enter legally, waiting in line, for years, and years, and years.

These are the forgotten. No one talks about these people, who like me, are not interested in breaking the law, regardless of how attractive America looks. These hard working men and women, who wait for the frustratingly slow process that seems to discriminate against those who want to do it by the book. These are the type of people who come here and started my favourite Scottish restaurant – and employ Americans. These are the people who emigrated from southern England and started a tea room where I can get Duke and Duchess tea, with a side of Branston Pickle and cheese – and employ Americans. These are the people who emigrated from China, started the best Chinese restaurant I have ever experienced – and employ Americans.

These are the people who after creating jobs for Americans, embrace the culture while also bringing the celebrations of their home country with them, adding to the vibrancy and diversity that is the American melting pot. And hopefully, my family members who are sitting in line, waiting for an initial review of their application for the past two years, will be able to arrive on these shores and be the next job creators in this region.

And yet, there is a small minority of Americans who see this as a zero-sum game. Where one immigrant means one less job for an American. The facts, however, do not bear that out. Within three blocks of where I sit in downtown St Louis, USA, there are hundreds of people, Americans, who have jobs because an immigrant started a business. Because an immigrant believed in the American dream, and worked hard to build a company, and employed Americans to be part of that dream.

This is why I'm honoured to be a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' new Group of 500. We are a growing assembly of the Midwest's business, political and civic leaders who are working to support the council's Task Force on Immigration and US Economic Competitiveness. The G500 is committed to moving the immigration debate forward into action.

Do I agree with every position the group supports? Absolutely not. But I am in agreement with many of the positions. And I'm willing to work with others of similar and opposite perspectives, in order to do what is best for immigrants and Americans. That is, to have an immigration system that benefits all of us. That causes job growth. That makes immigration easier and quicker for those who want to come here, work hard, and cause our economy to grow.

So as President Obama addresses the immigration issue and as those of us who are immigrants pray for some common sense in Washington DC that does not cater to special interests and actually fixes a very broken system, I have a glimmer of hope. Because I know how welcoming American is. I know how special America is. And my hope is that the locked door, where the No Vacancy sign hangs, will be unlocked and thrown open, and we again hear the refrain of Lady Liberty welcoming those yearning to be free.


Leftist opposition to LEGAL immigration in Australia

THERE is a certain irony to a man with a very thick Scottish accent [Labor senator Doug Cameron] banging on about the evils of 457 visas, the arrangement that allows workers to come to Australia on a temporary basis.

Ditto the woman whose family came from Wales to make a better life. According to Julia Gillard, migrants must be put at the end of the queue and the 457 visa program must be kept in check.

Lacking any systematic evidence of actual rorting of the program, the Prime Minister has decided to rely on "community feedback" - code for lost votes - to clamp down on the program and to impose additional red-tape on all employers, most of which comply with requirements.

Perhaps the most bizarre proposed new condition is English language competence of temporary migrants. For jobs that do not require English language ability, this makes no sense at all.

Were such a condition introduced by the Coalition, there would be accusations of racism. But we should not forget the deeply protectionist and anti-immigration roots of the union movement that has been baying for changes to 457 visas.

Gillard has also claimed that "we inherited from the previous government a 457 temporary foreign-worker visa program that was totally out of control".

If the number of 457 visa holders is indicative of control, then it actually looks as though this government has lost control of the program. In 2007-08, there were 111,000 457 visas granted; in 2011-12, the number was 125,000.

Britain remains the largest source of 457 visa holders, with other significant countries including India, Ireland, the US and The Philippines. While there has been some fluctuation over the past few years, the industry that accounts for most 457 visas is healthcare and social assistance. There are also significant numbers of 457 visa holders working in construction and IT.

The program is good policy. There are various conditions attached, including the need for local labour market testing and the requirement for market wages to be paid.

Given these safeguards are met, employers can access productive and enthusiastic workers from overseas when local workers are in short supply.

And for construction projects which are temporary, the use of 457 visa holders makes sense, particularly where the project is located in a remote location to which it is difficult to attract Australian workers.

Certainly, a good proportion of 457 visa holders do apply to stay in Australia. These people must fulfill the same requirements as other permanent skilled migrants, including the waiving of any entitlement to welfare for a two-year period.

"Trying before you buy" makes a lot of sense for these individuals.

If Canberra is serious about Australia being an open and innovative country hooked into Asia, there is no place for the retrograde changes being made to the 457 visa program.


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