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Demography and Immigration The Choice is Ours
by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.

Biography Free markets require a free flow of human capital every bit as much as the unimpeded access of surplus investment capital. The United States attracts both for the same reason, we reward talent and believe in growth. If our immigration policies refuse to let either form of capital compete in the home market, what is happening to Japan now must and will happen to America later. A protectionist mind set, which is what Japan and the INS have in common, provides a fatally false sense of protection and results in nothing so much as an inexorable slide in individual productivity - down this path, as the Japanese are now finding as the sun sets on their global influence - lies economic stagnation so pernicious and persistent that no government stimulation can reverse or revive it.

All advanced industrial nations must boost immigration levels to counter the social and economic impact of aging population caused by longer life spans and sliding fertility rates. In every such economy, including ours, a growing number of senior citizens must be supported by a shrinking proportion of active workers. Government policies to increase birth rates are doomed to failure given the fact that educated women want and need to work, and now have more choices which they will not allow to be taken from them. The genie is not going back in the bottle. The coming retirement of the post-World War II "baby boomer" generation is not an American but an international phenomenon. Attempts to increase the retirement age and control the cost of health-care benefits for the elderly cannot be approaches without a companion recognition that programs to put in place higher levels of immigration must be enacted. Immigration and demography neither know nor respect national boundaries.

What are we going to give up to get the internationalist immigration policy that our citizens must have if the social assumptions on which our whole culture is based shall not be totally destroyed? Raising or lowering the H-1B quota, which has sucked all of the intellectual oxygen out of the debate until now, is not the answer or even part of the answer. To assume that the demand for H-1B workers will continue to soar endlessly into our future is as uncertain as the conviction that tax cuts are justified because anticipated budget surpluses must appear since the business cycle has been repealed. There clearly needs to be a trigger that links the number of H-1B entrants to occupational unemployment in targeted regions that is periodically updated. Yet we are still skirting the real solution which is the clear and pressing need for a dramatic expansion of the employment-based immigrant quotas. There can be no immigration reform on the cheap.

In exchange for a tripling or quadrupling of these visa limits, the entire family-based fourth preference should be eliminated, while grandfathering any current beneficiaries, despite the understandable and anticipated outcry from those ethnic communities most directly affected. Ours is a culture based on the nuclear family and that is the social unit most in need of protection from the demographic time bomb whose ticking grows ever louder. We need to reduce the H-1B to a three year visa that cannot be renewed. The H-1B cap should be scrapped outright and consigned to the dust bin of history where it belongs.Create a Blanket H which could be applied for directly at US Consulates much as it is now possible to apply for the Blanket L visa. If necessary, reduce the number of refugees that the INS takes in while increasing our foreign aid program designed to increase living standards abroad.

Intentions can never be an effective substitute for a policy that works. Those who would rise up in angry protest against any attempt to repeal the family fourth preference must be asked whether its preservation is the best way to advance the concept of family unity, albeit on an extended basis. If it is not, and it is not, then it should and must go. Rather than keep alive a concept that separates families for many years at a time, is it not better to allow these same relatives to enter the US in a work-authorized capacity? Is this not achieving the same end much sooner in a way that benefits the nation and its economy? Instead of opposing an expansion of the employment-based quotas as something that does not concern them, or because of an anti-business bias, those who hold the family fourth preference sacred must look in the mirror and ask themselves who is really the friend of family unity?

Much of this is controversial and all will doubtless be subjected to spirited debate. Whether these suggestions can withstand such scrutiny or fail under the withering criticism is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that the next INS Commissioner cannot afford to delay in inviting all Americans to join the national conversation that we must, but do not now, have. Demography and Immigration the choice is ours.

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