While Michele Bachmann took immigrant-bashing to a new height today, proudly announcing that she would become the first presidential candidate of 2012 to make opposition to illegal immigration a signature issue, immigrants themselves were busy devising new solutions to the immigration problem—or at least one part of it—and the housing crisis to boot.
I will have more to say about Bachmann’s misguided crusade in days to come, including the bogus distinction between illegal and legal immigration, which makes it sound like there is a class of people out there who are congenitally wired to not care about our immigration laws, when the truth is that our immigration laws are wired to not care about them. For now, however, let’s ignore the Center for Immigration Studies-types who believe that there should be a total moratorium on immigration because all immigrants are bad immigrants since they raise our population and global greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s also ignore people like me at Reason who believe that all immigrants not proven to be Mohammad Atta and bird-flu carriers are good immigrants and should be allowed in the country pronto. Let’s split the baby in half and accept that highly skilled immigrants here legally are “good” and unskilled immigrants here illegally are “bad.”
“Good” immigrant Vivek Wadhawa—an Indian expat and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-Ivy-League-researcher—notes in his latest Washington Post column, this country has been doing a rather good job chasing out even people like him. Quite remarkably, it educates them and then loses them to other countries. Why? Because, explains Wadhwa:
[O]ver the past 20 years, we brought in large numbers of highly skilled workers and foreign students on temporary visas but never expanded the number of permanent resident visas which allow them to make the U.S. their only home. In some years we admitted more than 100,000 workers plus their families on the H1-B temporary worker visa, and we admitted a similar number of foreign students. But the cap for permanent-resident visas for all workers in the three skilled-worker permanent visa categories (EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3) remained at 120,000 (family members are counted in this quota). To add to the problem, there is a 7 percent-per-country limit on the number of skilled immigrants that are eligible for these visas. So we admit as many immigrants from high population countries like India, China, and Russia, as from Iceland, Mongolia, and Poland. That's less than 10,000 per country…
[A]s of October 2006, there were 500,040 principals in the main employment-based categories and an additional 555,044 family members awaiting legal permanent resident status in the United States. These numbers have likely increased since then. About 350,000 Indians and 250,000 Chinese are waiting for a yearly allocation of the roughly 10,000 skilled worker visas allocated for each country.
Given that these immigrants could be suspended in green card-limbo for decades, Wadhwa points out, many of them will simply lose their patience and leave for greener pastures elsewhere, greatly undermining America’s global competitiveness. To prevent this from happening, Wadhwa suggests, we nix the per-country limit for these “good” immigrants and hand them green cards on an expedited basis on one condition: They agree to purchase a house worth $250,000. Wadhwa’s calculations show that at least 20 percent of the qualified immigrants will take the offer, instantly taking 100,000 homes off the market, and injecting $25 billion into the economy. This is nothing to sneeze at and it sure beats trying to rescue the housing market through taxpayer-funded bailout and subsidies.
I have to confess that I get nervous when technocrats start delving into public policy given their low regard for precedents, checks-and-balances, keeping government in check and other such niceties that we libertarians worry about. And one obvious danger in Wadhwa’s suggestion is that the government will start seeing immigrants as a cash cow to subsidize its profligacy. Still, if the government gets too demanding, the immigrants can and will simply hit the exit doors, as they have been already doing, leaving neither themselves nor the country much worse off.
Hence Wadhwa’s suggestion deserves some serious thought. May be it’ll work and may be it won’t. But if it does, it will show that immigrants themselves are the best source of ideas to solve our immigration problem. And that is reason enough to let them in.