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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Immigration Policy - An International Affair

I came across some very interesting articles about U.S. immigration law recently and I thought I'd share them with you.  It seems that the U.S. Congress is not necessarily the highest authority in this matter and some very creative people have had the intelligence to take this out of the national realm and make it an international fight.

Civil Rights Groups Take Alabama Immigration Law to the UN:  Union and civil rights leaders have filed a complaint against Alabama and the U.S. government with the United Nation International Labor Organization.  They allege that Alabama's immigration laws are a "flagrant violation of international norms" and that the United States' inability to come up with coherent immigration policy hurts domestic and migrant workers alike.  The Service Employees International Union filed the complaint with the UN earlier this week:
The complaint, submitted to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association alleges the U.S. government’s “inability to act promptly and decisively to put in place a national policy related to immigration - attentive to international guarantees related to individual workers’ rights as well as to the rights of trade unions with immigrant members - has given the space to individual states to enact laws that are in flagrant violation of international norms.”
They are holding the US government responsible for the recently enacted Alabama immigration laws and they are not only willing to take it to the UN, they are bringing the fight directly to the foreign companies that have invested in that state.
In a statement to Daimler AG, which produces Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Alabama, the SEIU and its affiliate, the Southern Regional Joint Board of Workers United wrote, “Until now, Daimler and Mercedes-Benz have been silent on this law which violates human rights, even though one of its German executives was arrested under the Alabama law.”
Labor Leaders Take Alabama Immigration Law Repeal Bid to Berlin:  Labor leaders are backing up their words with action by going directly to the source in Berlin, Seoul and Tokyo and calling these companies on their tacit collaboration with what they feel is legislation that violates human rights:
At the Daimler AG annual shareholders meeting in Berlin April 4, U.S. labor and civil rights leaders said that unless the German company takes a stand on Alabama’s infamous anti-immigrant law, it is tacitly supporting a racist and unjust regime in a state where its Mercedes Benz factory is considered responsible for 10,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in economic impact.
In March, civil rights activists and labor leaders attended Hyundai’s annual shareholder meeting in Seoul to make a similar point, as Colorlines reported, since Hyundai’s Alabama operations account for 2 percent of the state’s GDP. Depending whether the state legislature acts to repeal before then, they may also visit Honda’s shareholder meeting in Tokyo in June.
That is not only very gutsy, it's a very smart strategy.  This is not exactly the kind of publicity these companies need.  As for the U.S. government, if the ILO rules against them, it makes their criticism of other governments' policies (like China) look terribly hypocritical.  Alabama certainly doesn't come off well either.  If the unions and civil rights leaders can successfully equate investment in that state with support for violating international standards for human rights, companies might be less willing to do business there and that ought to make local lawmakers sit up and take notice.  This is one to watch closely.  If anyone in Germany, Korea or Japan finds links to this story in the local media, I'd really appreciate your adding them in the comments section.  It would be interesting to see how this story is presented in these companies' home country media.

India challenges U.S. immigration rules at WTO:  India has filed a complaint against the U.S. government with the World Trade Organization (WTO).  In 2010 the U.S. raised visa fees for skilled workers to a whopping 4,500 USD per visa.  Indian IT firms say that this discriminatory (and it does seem to have been directed against them) and a barrier to free trade.  This may be a bit of a "tit for tat" situation since the complaint was filed after India put a ban on poultry imports from abroad - something that hurts the U.S. poultry industry.  Nonetheless, the high fees and the high rejection rates of Indian applicants for U.S. work visas (H1B and L-1) really hurts the Indian IT industry.
The law under which those business visa fees were raised is known as the James Zadroga Act. Under the law, fees are substantially increased for H1B and L1 immigrant business visas. The rule also makes it harder for Indian multinationals in the U.S. like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro to bring in top executives or senior computer engineers from abroad.
“It is the sovereign right of any country to hike visa fee, but the U.S. move is mainly against Indian IT companies. The law discriminates between an American and Indian companies. This is a breach of national treatment and most favored nation status,” an unnamed Commerce Ministry official told the ET.
Tech CEOs visit Washington to lobby for H1B visa, tax reforms:  Last month 60 CEOs of high-tech companies in the U.S. descended on Washington to fight for immigration reform.  What do they want?  More H1-B visas, faster processing of visa applications and a better retention policy for foreign graduates from U.S. universities with high-tech degrees.  Technet is a lobbying organization that represents high-tech industries in the U.S.  However, if you take a look at the executives they sent to Washington, you'll see that its members are not really U.S. companies, they are international companies like Cisco, HP,  Intel, Google, Microsoft and EMC.

These articles really highlight the complex nature of immigration policy and how it can't ever be made in a vacuum that takes into account only local concerns.  Look at the stakeholders above:  United Nations, WTO, trade unions, civil rights leaders, workers, lobbyists, local and international industry, local and national governments.  And then take a look at the people who are responsible for sorting through all this and actually passing laws that make sense in this complex environment.  How many U.S. congressman, for example, have ever lived or worked overseas as a civilian?  How many of them have been immigrants?  How many of them speak a foreign language or have extensive experience with another culture?  I couldn't find any statistics on the Web but just looking at my Congresswomen, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the answer is they have zero international experience. That's a bit worrisome when you consider that they represent a state that hosts the offices of international companies like Boeing and Microsoft.  And lest you think that I am picking on the U.S. check out the biography of Claude Guéant, the French Minister of the Interior.  His world is the Hexagone and reading his profile you start to understand why he was so surprised when his infamous circulaire received international attention.  

I am not saying that these people are not intelligent - on the contrary they are smart, dedicated public servants who I am sure are doing the very best they can for their constituents.  What I am saying is that when it comes to immigration policy they may be at the lowest level of ignorance which is "not even knowing what you don't know." They just don't have sufficient international experience that would give them the context they need for the decisions that they are responsible for making.

I think this is something to take into account in this election year even at the local level. Globalization is a fact of life and your local representative might just find him or herself thrust into an international spotlight thanks to some local policy or law that has international stakeholders.  The question to ask is:  can this person play at that level?   Is he/she experienced and knowledgeable enough to understand the international implications of the votes he casts or the policies he has a hand in making?  If the answer is "no" or "I'm not sure," you might want to think again.  For your own protection and so that globalization may be rightly guided to the benefit of us all.

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