Migration: only for the rich and talented?
In the USA, the issue of immigration is an even hotter topic than in the UK. Unlike the UK experience, in the last US Presidential election, migration was judged a positive issue for the left (people differ on whether that holds lessons for the UK, or whether the US is unique.) However, it’s still a hugely contentious area, and the TUC’s sister organisation the AFLCIO is now pushing Congressional Republicans to give way and agree a deal.
As in the UK, both employers and unions oppose shutting the borders down and reject the implicitly racist call for tougher immigration policies. But, again like the UK, they differ over protecting migrant workers from exploitation and preventing undercutting of resident workers’ rights. The AFLCIO have, for instance, clashed with high tech company employers over the issue of visas for skilled workers: just as in the UK, unions want employers to try first to find the talent they need in the resident labour market, or provide training to solve their skill shortages.
Now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, one of the targets of the AFLCIO’s concerns, has argued publicly that migration shouldn’t only be for the rich and talented, but for everyone, thus challenging the basis of policies like the UK’s Points-Based Scheme which provides an easier path to migrants who have wealth or qualifications.
This is, of course, an easier argument in a nation founded on “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” as the plaque on the Statue of Liberty calls them. But it backs up the arguments of economists (eg at the OECD) who argue that all migrants are net contributors to public wealth, and activists who point out, as Zuckerberg did, that the archetypal migration story is of someone who fights their way to the top, not someone who starts there! (In the UK, educationalists point to the peer impact of aspirational migrants’ children on overall school results in London.)
The Facebook founder (who has brought together a who’s who of the ICT industry to found a pro-immigration reform lobbying group) used the screening of a film by and about an undocumented migrant worker to say that the US economy needs not only to cherry-pick the best and the brightest from developing countries (which could lead to a brain drain) but also those who will fill labour shortages at the low-skill end of the labour market. This is where most undocumented migrant workers in the US are already, and the union campaign to create for them a path to citizenship is aimed at smoothing their entry into what Americans call the middle class: basically, people in decent work.
That strategy will only work if resident workers’ rights are protected, and migrant workers are treated with respect and allowed to organise for better wages and working conditions. It remains to be seen whether the alliance of employers and unions will extend that far.