There’s a straightforward way to improve the policies we use to engage foreign talent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed concerns about the fairness of America’s immigration system. Some of the industries hit hardest by the virus put immigrants at elevated risk of infection and, as was tragically the case for five workers at a meatpacking plant in Colorado, death. Guest workers also have limited mobility, a concern illustrated by the case of Dr. Ram Alur, a foreign physician working on an H-1B visa in southern Illinois. Because Alur’s visa ties him to a particular employer, he and other doctors on H-1B visas were unable to join the fight against coronavirus in New York despite their public-spirited desire to do so. The roughly 20 million Americans currently unemployed may also worry that further admittance of foreign workers during the economic recession will make it even more difficult for them to find work in a historically weak labor market.
Thus far, the White House response has involved the suspension of entry for select migrants. Whether one agrees with this action or not, it is a temporary measure for an issue that is — like immigrant working conditions and guest-worker mobility — a perennial concern. Addressing these issues permanently will require a longer-term fix. One option Congress should consider is auctioning guest-worker visas, a fairer and more efficient approach that could appeal to immigration admissionists and restrictionists alike.
On April 22, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the issuance of green cards to immigrants abroad for 60 days unless they were seeking entry to perform an essential job in the health-care sector. The order was intended to “protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs from new lawful permanent residents” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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