On the benefit of an open economy

Wulfbeorn has a few snippets on why the Republic’s relatively open borders are bringing enormous benefit to the country. If you want to get an account of the reverse of this problem, here’s Craig Barrett, Chair of Intel in the FT a few weeks back on the parlous state of US engineering in the aftermath of the post 9/11 clampdown on immigration.

The real crisis is that the US is closing its doors to immigrants with degrees in science, maths and engineering – the “best and brightest” from around the world who flock to the country for its educational and employment opportunities. These foreign-born knowledge workers are critically important to maintaining America’s technological competitiveness.

Even those who get in to study are often asked to leave afterwards:

At a time when we need more science and technology professionals, it makes no sense to invite foreign students to study at our universities, educate them partially at taxpayer expense and then tell them to go home and take the jobs those talents will create home with them.

The current situation can only be described as a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. We need experienced and talented workers if our economy is to thrive. We have an immigration problem that remains intractable and, in an attempt to appear tough on illegal immigration, we over-control the employment-based legal immigration system. As a consequence, we keep many of the potentially most productive immigrants out of the country. If we had purposefully set out to design a system that would hobble our ability to be competitive, we could hardly do better than what we have today. Certainly in the post 9/11 world, security must always be a foremost concern. But that concern should not prevent us from having access to the highly skilled workers we need.

And finally:

At a minimum the US should vastly increase the number of permanent visas for highly educated foreigners, streamline the process for those already working here and allow foreign students in the hard sciences and engineering to move directly to permanent resident status. Any country that wants to remain competitive has to start competing for the best minds in the world. Without that we may be unable to maintain economic leadership in the 21st century.