I wrote an article on February 20, 2006 about the real reason the US government refuses to regulate illegal immigration, and why the simplistic rationales floating around are bogus. I believe the points provided in that article continue to be true.
My thoughts on general immigration to the US are free-market oriented, and thus in opposition to isolationist conservatives as well as big union leftists. I believe that, within reason, immigration to the US should accomodate market forces.
However, the immigration situation today is nearly the opposite of this. 11 million have entered the US illegally, and are mostly at the bottom of the skill ladder, thus consuming far more taxpayer resources than they contribute. They are actually a disproportionaly high percentage of our prison population. At the same time, the pathway for highly skilled immigrants to smoothly and easily settle in the US is bureaucratic, painful, and often takes 7-12 years to complete. During this process, they are restricted from changing employers to seek better opportunities, are unable to secure permission for their spouses to work, and live with the psychological burden of being in limbo for an inhumane duration of time.
Making it easy for people at the bottom of the skill ladder to come here through violation of our laws, while making it extremely tortuous for people at the top of the skill ladder to come here legally, has got to be just about the biggest failure in US governmental policy today.
I am under no illusions that the mediocre intellects in the US government will be able to execute such a simple yet beneficial overhaul of our immigration paradigm, but I will propose a solution anyway.
The US should allow free, easy, unlimited immigration of any individuals who have completed a Bachelor's degree in any field, from any country, from a demonstrably legitimate institution. The US decides which institutions meet the criteria of accreditation/legitimacy, and maintains the list, by country, on an easily accessible website. I would not even restrict it to people with only engineering degrees, or people who have only been educated in English. I believe that just about anyone with this level of education can quickly get a decent job in America, particularly since only those who are confident in their abilities will make the move to begin with.
Currently, about 30% of US adults above the age of 25 possess a Bachelor's degree, and it makes sense to bring in people who increase this percentage, rather than decrease it (as current unskilled illegals do). The unemployment rate for people with a Bachelor's degree is just 1.2%. Even a policy this open will not result in more than 750,000 people immigrating to the US per year. At an average of $60,000 a year, this adds an incremental $45 Billion to US GDP every year, which is a 0.3% increment to GDP growth every year.
At the same time, immigration of people with less education should be restricted to minimal quantities. There is no reason to dilute the educational attainment of US society, and thus dilute per-capita GDP. The bogus claim that "they do critical jobs that Americans will not do" is easily disproven by the fact that in the 1980s and 1990s, states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, etc. were fully functioning societies without the need for a vast underclass of unskilled illegals. US-born citizens did minimum wage jobs in those societies.
In short, we should bring in more above-average people and fewer below-average people. The simple policy outlined above will have vast and dramatic benefits to the US economy and American society. Economic growth and tax receipts will surge. Real estate prices will rise and construction will boom. MNC's will re-center more of their operations in the US. College-educated immigrants are the cause of almost no violent crime. Political and economic ties with India and China will strengthen, as most of the new immigrants will be from these two nations. There is virtually no downside amongst these multiple upsides, and I challenge anyone to come up with one (the notion of wage despression through such immigration is already debunked).
Yes another benefit is the destruction of 'political correctness' that accompanies the present debate. An education-weighted immigration policy will favor Indian, Chinese, South Korean, and Russian immigration, while locking out many Mexican and Central American immigrants. Different cultures attach differing importance to education, and while this is readily visible in the free market that is the US workforce, multiculturism has erected barriers to obstruct these market forces. It is time that the US became more pragmatic in this regard.
Australia, a very pragmatic and well-run nation, already has a policy that gives preference to highly skilled immigrants. Thus, Australia's Human Development Index has surpassed that of the US. Ireland, too, has executed a similar strategy with great success, and is now wealthier than Britain, France, and Germany.
Again, I have no hope that such a simple and constructive overhaul will occur. If only the US were shrewd (again).......
Update (6/21/07) : BusinessWeek has an article about exactly this, one month later than I have written about it here.