The Way Forward on Migration – April 20, 2017


Hire [fill in the blank] First

Last week, nearly 1500 economists sent an open letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders extolling “the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring”  and urging them to modernize the system – something CFGI has been advocating for over two decades. 

This week, President Trump issued an Executive Order entitled Buy American and Hire American, directing the agencies that “ in order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.” 

The U.S. is not alone.  Around the globe this week:

  • New Zealand’s Immigration Minister announced limits on skilled workers saying,  "We are absolutely committed to the principle of kiwis first."
  • Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to put “Australians first” by cutting a temporary foreign worker program.
  •  French National Front Candidate Marine Le Pen, “vowed to clamp down, expel, stamp out and restrict immigration, and to make France more French.”
  • Alberta, Canada’s Minister of Labour announced that “Albertans will be first in line for available jobs.”

All of this has left employers, and foreign workers, reeling.

There is no question that governments have an obligation to ensure that foreign workers do not undercut wages or working conditions for native workers.  They also must work with employers and educators to ensure that native workers have the skills needed in today’s global economy.  What’s less recognized are the demographic trends shaping the workforce of tomorrow that will require efficient immigration systems for the foreseeable future.

Reform done right can advance opportunities for native workers and certainty for employers and foreign workers; but reform done haphazardly may have unintended consequences.  Consider the following fallouts from uncertainty around H-1B reforms:

  • For the fifth consecutive year, employers stand less than a 50-50 chance of winning an H-1B visa in this year’s lottery. Given that it costs upwards of $3500 to file an H-1B visa and that the law requires H-1B workers to receive the same wages and benefits as their US colleagues, most employers are unlikely to apply for visas they don’t need.
  • Tech companies are considering their options in more visa-friendly provinces in Canada.
  • Employers are reporting that the suspension of premium processing has made H-1B workers hesitant to move to new jobs without an approval notice in hand – something that could now take 6 or more months rather than two weeks.  Easy portability is recognized as important to prevent abuse in the program.
  • Suspension of premium processing may also impede placement of foreign doctors in rural areas, and the ability of medical residents and college professors to be in place on time.

74% of employers agree that the ability to obtain visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to their business objectives.  Perhaps the next step is for the economists to calculate the costs of our failure to act.






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