America is the middle of a huge immigration debate now a days. There is a new immigration agreement between the Democrats and the Republicans – and it has not made anyone happy – either on the left or the right. While the debate (and the bill) is centered around the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States, it also has implications to folks with employment sponsored visas – primarily educated workers (of which, to be fair, yours truly is a part of).

In terms of the illegal immigrants (a euphemism used for primarily Mexicans and a smattering of other South American nationals), the bill proposes a path to permanent residency and ultimately citizenship based on a point system. The problem (and therefore the controversy) is around the way the point system is structured – it lays more emphasis on educational and other specialized credentials of the illegal immigrants and less on existing family ties in the United States. The problem with that premise is two fold – one, since the bill awards points based on educational and professional credentials – it also implicitly assumes that a significant proportion of the illegal immigrants have those credentials. Its an presumptuous assumption at best – egregious at worst. For most of the illegal immigrants – who pretty much walk across a desert to get to America – its grinding poverty back in Mexico that gets them here – not the hope of getting a job in the Silicon Valley.

The second issue is compliance. Since the bill is focused on illegal immigrants already in the United States and because existing family ties does not award commensurate points – the problem will become compliance. If I am an illegal immigrant and I have a family, children attending schools and barely trying to make ends meet – I dont know if it would seem very attractive for me to go and pay 5 grand in fines without getting a whole lot in return.

The bill would need to be tweaked – and it probably will – but as I see it – atleast from the standpoint of addressing the illegal immigration issue – there are just major holes. And this not even begin to address the fundamental reality that brings illegal immigrants to America and however it sounds – it is true. There are not enough Americans who would do the jobs that these immigrants do. Not in kind. Not with those wages. And the rest of us are addicted to cheap meat, cheap fruits and vegetables – which would never reach the supermarket aisles if there were not enough illegal immigrants working in the meatpacking factories, the fruit orchards or in fields – under very trying working circumstances. If those immigrants are taken out – would there be enough Americans to do the jobs? Resounding answer – No. So America needs them.

Coming back to the other aspect of the immigration bills – for skilled workers.

Put this in perspective – America allows 68000 H1B visas every year. This year (fiscal year 2008) – all the visas were taken on the first day that they could be applied for. American universities now do not produce enough American born candidates with advanced degrees in Maths, Science and Technology to provide employees for the technological and scientific industries. A full 55% of masters and PhD candidates last year from American universities were foreign born – and now a majority of the class of 2006 will not be able to work in America -even if they had a job – there are no visas. And with the economies of the two major countries that produce those masters and PhD candidates – India and China growing leaps and bounds – a bunch would move back to work at home – not a bad thing at all for these countries – but competitively disadvantageous to the American economy.

And what this bill does is put all the illegal immigrants in front of all these professionals working on temporary visas who want permanent residency (for which there is a huge backlog).

This is a hugely complicated issue with very deep passions both on the conservative and liberal sides.The bill needs to be re-worked – pragmatically and compassionately – to address the very real needs of both legal and illegal immigrants in the country.

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