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EDITORIAL: Reimagining Immigration

There was a most interesting report on the front page of the New York Times last week headed: "Contending With the Pandemic, Wealthy Nations Wage Global Battle for Migrants."

Suffice it to say, the United States is not currently on the front line in this battle, though there is certainly a battle going on within the U.S. when it comes to immigration, policy and the very concept.

Here's what the report stated in part: "As the global economy heats up and tries to put the pandemic aside, a battle for the young and able has begun. With fast-track visas and promises of permanent residency, many of the wealthy nations driving the recovery are sending a message to skilled immigrants all over the world: Help wanted. Now.

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"In Germany, where officials recently warned that the country needs 400,000 new immigrants a year to fill jobs in fields ranging from academia to air-conditioning, a new Immigration Act offers accelerated work visas and six months to visit and find a job.

"Canada plans to give residency to 1.2 million new immigrants by 2023. Israel recently finalized a deal to bring health care workers from Nepal. And in Australia, where mines, hospitals and pubs are all short-handed after nearly two years with a closed border, the government intends to roughly double the number of immigrants it allows into the country over the next year.

"The global drive to attract foreigners with skills, especially those that fall somewhere between physical labor and a physics Ph.D., aims to smooth out a bumpy emergence from the pandemic.

"Covid’s disruptions have pushed many people to retire, resign or just not return to work. But its effects run deeper. By keeping so many people in place, the pandemic has made humanity’s demographic imbalance more obvious — rapidly aging rich nations produce too few new workers, while countries with a surplus of young people often lack work for all.

"New approaches to that mismatch could influence the worldwide debate over immigration. European governments remain divided on how to handle new waves of asylum seekers. In the United States, immigration policy remains mostly stuck in place, with a focus on the Mexican border, where migrant detentions have reached a record high. Still, many developed nations are building more generous, efficient and sophisticated programs to bring in foreigners and help them become a permanent part of their societies."

Forgetting the worldwide debate for a moment it is instructive, for comparative purposes, to focus on the immigration debate in the U.S. To call it a debate might be a little wide of the mark. It has been more like a raging slugfest with the very word "immigration" becoming a pejorative in the eyes of some.

Again, from the Times report: "In the United States, where baby boomers left the job market at a record rate last year, calls for reorienting immigration policy toward the economy are getting louder. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged policymakers to overhaul the immigration system to allow more work visas and green cards.

"President Biden is trying first to unclog what’s already there. The administration’s $2.2 trillion social policy bill, if it passes a divided Senate, would free up hundreds of thousands of green cards dating back to 1992, making them available for immigrants currently caught up in a bureaucratic backlog. Many other countries are galloping further ahead. Israel, for example, has expanded its bilateral agreements for health workers."

The "bureaucratic backlog" is only part of the story of course. There are also millions of undocumented/illegal people living within U.S. borders, not a few of them paying their taxes while attempting to regularize their status. Some of them are Irish.

The mention in the Times report of Canada was pertinent. Sure, Canada has about thirty million people living within its borders as opposed to the 330 million or so in the U.S. But the Canadians operate a system with greater emphasis on national job and skills requirements than the U.S. priority of family reunification.

An immigration system at its best is broad-based. It allows for entry based on skills as well as family connections. It is something that requires fine tuning and constant reexamination. Unfortunately, the current political climate in the U.S. does not allow for much of either.

The U.S. now finds itself in a competitive market for the world's providers of labor. The days of the American Dream standing out from the crowd are fading fast, if they are not already gone completely.

Some legislators in Washington understand this; some do not. And some are just plain hostile to the idea of people from other countries making new lives in this one.

This cannot last, and for sure the rest of the developed world isn't going to worry too much about all the squabbling over immigration policy in Washington, D.C. It will be too busy taking advantage.