Noah Smith writes an excellent BloombergView piece on why the US needs more high-skilled immigrants. This bit nicely sums up his case:
They represent one of the last big juicy pieces of low-hanging fruit out there for the taking. They start lots of companies, which give people jobs. They power most of our highest-value-added industries. They don’t compete with working-class Americans; they employ working-class Americans, and their demand for local goods and services gives income to working-class Americans.
Yes, to all of the above. Familiar arguments but ones in need of reminder and restatement. But this sentence, after a paragraph dismissing counterarguments, made me pause:
Some even see bigotry in the call for high-skilled immigration — what, are we trying to create some kind of high-IQ utopia here?
I sure hope something like that is a goal. I hope policymakers would want to make America the premier destination for highly-educated, entrepreneurial people who want to live in a country where government encourages innovation and success rather than throwing up roadblocks. A place with the where it is easy to raise money, and hard to run afoul of cronyist regulation and intellectual property rights. A place with super-fast internet and a super-efficient public sector that can effectively deliver public goods.
It makes me think of the New Canaan Holdfast in the “Brilliance” book series by Marcus Sakey. (The second book in the series just came out.) In Sakey’s alternate America, a sliver of the US population is born with superhuman smarts. Many of these “brilliants” decide to live in a huge section of Wyoming purchased by a brilliant centibillionaire to both escape growing persecution and live in a place that encourages their talents. It’s the ultimate experiment in the economics of agglomeration. The X-Men meets Silicon Valley. In NCH, brilliant scientists greatly advance all manner of technology. Eventually those marvels will create a more prosperous America and world. But right now, the rest of the country is wigging out, thus creating the conflict around which the series revolves.
Of course I don’t want to bring in just the brainiacs. American immigration policy should be about more than just economic benefit. But there is nothing wrong with an immigration policy that consciously and directly tries to recruit many more people who can help America continue to push the technology and innovation frontier. Again, Smith:
In an ideal world, what would we be doing to increase high-skilled immigration? By far the most important thing is to increase the number of green cards — not H-1Bs — and to base the new crop of green cards on skills instead of family reunification. The idea of stapling a green card to the diplomas of foreigners who study in the U.S. is a good one, and something like this should be made a reality. Beyond that, we should increase the number of entrepreneurship visas, boost the number of H-1Bs, and reform the H-1B visa to make workers less tethered to specific employers. But green cards are really the key.