In the past week I’ve come to appreciate the real world complexities of immigration even more. It began last Tuesday as I sat at the Indian consulate in Washington, D.C. biting my nails as I waited to see whether I would get a visa to board a plane taking off the next day. Knowing what I do about processing delays around the world, I probably should have submitted my application more than three weeks before my trip. But since I was travelling abroad, I couldn’t do that. Luckily the consulate came through for me and I boarded my flight for the B20 meeting in Berlin (more on that below).
I left Berlin on Saturday headed for Mumbai. The flight was delayed so I missed my connection in Istanbul. While the airline would put me up in a hotel, I had to get a visa to enter Turkey. Thirty dollars and two hours later I had my visa so I could spend 14 hours at the hotel.
The past two days I have met with two Indian companies with manufacturing operations in the United States. I listened as they told me of their challenges getting key executives into the United States (and Canada and Singapore and Brazil…). I sympathized, told them they are not alone, and said I would pass this information along to the governments I will meet the next few days at the Global Forum for Migration and Development in Bangladesh. I also tried to give them some assurances about what might happen in the United States. When I returned to my hotel, I had to laugh at the conference sign – the U.S. Commercial Service has an exhibition connecting Indian companies to U.S. suppliers! I fully support their efforts and hope we attract lots of business to the U.S., but I also hope the government will ensure our Indian friends can get the visas they need to work with our suppliers.
Back to the B20. I serve on the B20 Employment and Education task force and our mission is to develop policy recommendations for the G20 heads of state who will meet in Germany in July. Recognizing that high levels of unemployment co-exist with a competition for skilled workers, we are focused on helping governments understand and adapt to the rapid technological and skills changes facing our economies. Part of the solution will be structural reforms that provide for a more flexible labor market, but ensuring more education and opportunities for all workers, especially women and youth, and allowing for the flow of labor across borders will be critical as well. Our work has just begun but I am excited that we are seeking to ensure our recommendations are evidence-based and focused on practical recommendations which implementation can be monitored over time.
It’s certainly going to be a busy year.