Next month Congress will try to resolve a dispute with the White House over federal quotas for “H-1B” visas — a type of work permits for immigrants filling high-tech jobs. Pending legislation would expand the quotas by 10,000 to 20,000 annually for the next five years — still far less than the demand for such workers. President Clinton opposes the loosened standards, arguing that domestic workers should be trained for these high-tech jobs.
In fact, both sides are wrong. Any restrictions on immigration — large or small — trample the rights of both employers and job-seeking immigrants.
To make this issue clear, put yourself in the place of an employer who has just interviewed two job applicants. The first is hard-working, talented, and ambitious. He has gone through enormous effort to obtain an education and to acquire the skills necessary for this job. He received excellent grades in school and high praise from his previous employers. More important, he has shown the courage to leave his home, to travel thousands of miles, to learn a new language and an unfamiliar culture — all to pursue his chosen career and to work for a better life.
The second applicant has no particular skills for the job you are offering; he expects you to train him. He never performed well in school. When his previous employer, in a different field, closed down, he did not try to acquire new talents or to move elsewhere to seek work. He expects new skills and a new job to be provided to him, with no need for any initiative on his part.
Which applicant would you hire? Clearly, the first one, because he will be more productive for you. Hiring him would be an act of justice: It would reward the one who has worked harder to improve himself.
Under our current immigration laws, however, you would be told that you cannot hire the first man and that you must hire the second — because the second is a native of this country and the first isn’t. Wouldn’t you consider this an intrusion on your right to choose the best worker for your company — and on the worker’s right to take the best job he is offered? Wouldn’t you consider it a crude injustice to punish a man of greater ability and initiative merely because he is not “one of us”? Yet this is precisely what America’s immigration laws require.
Defenders of those laws often argue that increased immigration is a drain on the American taxpayer, who will have to finance additional welfare payments. But this is just a smokescreen. If the anti-immigrationists truly oppose parasitism, why is it somehow more acceptable if the non-productive moocher is a native-born American than if he is an immigrant? And if welfare is the problem, why do they complain about highly skilled foreigners coming here specifically for the purpose of working?
Perhaps, as Clinton maintains, domestic workers could be pulled off the streets and be trained to perform some of the high-tech jobs taken by H-1B immigrants — but why should they have to be? Why should employers be forced to chase workers who have not taken the initiative to acquire valuable skills on their own? And why should these jobs be refused to those who have taken that initiative?
The irrational premise behind our nation’s immigration laws is that a native-born American has a “right” to a particular job, not because he has earned it, but because he was born here. To this “right,” the law sacrifices the employer’s right to hire the best employees — and the immigrant’s right to take a job that he deserves. To put it succinctly, initiative and productiveness are sacrificed to sloth and inertia.
The “American dream” is essentially the freedom of each individual to rise as far as his abilities take him. The opponents of immigration, however, want to repudiate that vision by turning America into a privileged preserve for those who want the law to set aside jobs for them — jobs they cannot freely earn through their own efforts.
The quotas on H-1B visas — along with all other visas — should not just be expanded; they should be eliminated. Any immigrant who wants to come to America in search of a better life should be let in — and any employer who wants to hire him should be free to do so. Anything less would be un-American.
Read more op-eds by this author at ARI’s MediaLink.