Immigration for Academics II - Answering the Challenge:

Jonathan Adler's recent post cites Matthew Yglesias' challenge to academics who support open immigration. Yglesias writes:

I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc.

OK, here goes:

I hereby announce my unequivocal support for the proposition that the US government should allow universities to hire professors without regard to the job applicant's citizenship status or national origin. There should be no government-mandated "requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, [or] good-faith recruitment of natives."

In reality, universities are rarely if ever prevented from hiring foreign academics by visa rules even in the status quo. Almost every top tier law school I know of (including GMU) has at least a few foreign professors (not even counting immigrants like myself, who had US citizenship prior to entering academia). In my experience, visa considerations virtually never influence law school faculty hiring decisions; I suspect that the same is true in other academic fields. Therefore, I doubt the validity of Yglesias' claim that if visa requirements for academics were scrapped, "there could be many more [foreign professors], wages for academics could be lower, and college tuitions could be significantly lower." However, my support for open academic immigration is not contingent on the accuracy of this prediction. If Yglesias is right about the effects of eliminating visa requirements for professors and I am wrong, I believe that would actually strengthen the case for doing it.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .

. . . . and your unemployed academics!

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Immigration for Academics II - Answering the Challenge:
  2. Immigration for Academics:
  3. Immigration: The Economic Consensus
Paul McKaskle (mail):
Any assumption about the effects of "foreign" competition for faculty positions at law schools in the U.S. must take into account that law teaching is a strictly regulated cartel, controlled nationally by the ABA and AALS and within a law school by the existing faculty. (Additionally, these days, high salaries help in getting a good position in the U.S. News rankings.) At most Universities, law faculty salaries are usually considerably higher than most non-law faculty salaries (at least outside medical schools). It isn't that lawyers need more training to become academics (most Ph.D.s have spent far longer training for an academic life) and it is not due to a lack of supply of competent lawyers interested in teaching. So, competition from "foreign" academics who might be willing to teach for lower wages simply isn't a factor that law faculties need to worry about.

Further, I suspect that most "foreign" academics who are hired by an American law school have some unusual qualification or distinction--expert knowledge of the European Union law, for example--or a chair at someplace like Oxford or Cambridge. It would probably take a high salary to lure them to come to the U.S. Further, especially outside the British Commonwealth countries, relative few academics, even distinguished ones, have special expertise in much of the American law school curriculim--Constitutional Law, Taxation, Anti-Trust, etc. With large numbers of domestic lawyers interested in teaching (just peruse the large number of listings in the annual AALS register, and that doesn't include a significant number who are hired without going through the AALS register system) only exceptionally well qualified foreign lawyers (who are also sufficiently fluent, clear, and at ease in English) are likely to be hired, and then most likely in International or Comparative Law areas.

The only threat to law professor salaries is the possibility of out-sourcing much law practice (which is beginning to occur in some areas of law) causing a decline in the number of U.S. lawyers, hence a drop in the number of law students. But much law--court appearances, meeting with clients, negotiations, etc., cannot easily be outsourced, so this isn't a huge threat. In addition, I think the vast increase in litigiousness in the United States will lead to an increase the number of lawyers needed which will more than off-set whatever loss occurs from off-shoring.
5.29.2006 3:43am
Yglesias is showing a distinct lack of knowledge about academia, particularly when he says that high professor salaries cause high tuition.

Apart from a very few fields in the hard sciences and law, college professors do not make much money. For fields like political science, english, history, anthropology, sociology, etc., the average starting salary in a university is $35-45k.
5.29.2006 8:18am
M (mail):
Additionally it would be odd for a university to use an H1-B for an offer to someone at the tenured level. At that level one would use an immigrant visa rather than the temporary H1-B visa. (A sort of flip-side of this debate is that Canada _did_ practice a sort of protectionism in its university faculties for many years, giving strong preference in all junior [at least] hiring to Canadians. I understand that the program, while formally on-going, has been de facto scrapped as it, of course, greatly weekend the pool of potential hires, hurting the quality of Canadian universities.)
5.29.2006 8:55am
EricRasmusen (mail) (www):
Yglesias has embarassed himself with his lack of knowledge of the make-up of university faculties. In my department (Business Economics and Public Policy), we have one Korean, one Italian, one Canadian, one Frenchwoman, one German, and seven Americans. We all are aware of the foreign competition--- but I don't know of a single economist who objects to open immigration for people with doctorates, even if they object (as I do) to open immigration of non-academics.
5.29.2006 10:34am
Michael Jennings (mail) (www):
I am familiar with the hard sciences (mathematics, physics and things like computational biology) side of academia and that has the closest thing to a genuinely international labour market I have seen. If you are an academic who is offered a job in a decent university (or even a postdoc at a decent university) pretty much anywhere, then some sort of visa will exist to allow you to take the job. You may well then have to wrestle painfully with the local immigration bureaucracy of the country in question (almost all legal immigrants virtually everywhere generally do) but you will be able to take the job. This genuinely is a situation where universities can hire who they please. And they do.

That said, I have often seen US based academics using H1-B visas, even at the tenured level. Actually getting a green card for professional level positions in the US can be extraordinarily difficult, even for such things as tenured professors. (It generally happens, but it takes a while).

I think most universities and academics would be delighted to replace the present situation with a genuine "open immigration for academics" regime, as it would not change the status quo much, but it would get rid of a great deal of frustration from dealing with bureaucracy.
5.29.2006 10:45am
frankcross (mail):
Ditto from a business school.
I think that an absolute majority of our recent hires are from overseas, mainly Asia with some Europe.
5.29.2006 12:23pm
Hans Bader (mail):
It's odd how American immigration policy favors unskilled immigrants (who cost more in welfare than they save employers in labor costs) over skilled ones who enrich our country and pay more in taxes than they consume in government services.

And how our current immigration policy, and the Senate's immigration bill, treat illegal aliens almost as well as legal aliens (and occasionally better than legal aliens), eliminating any incentive to comply with immigration laws.

The Senate immigration bill, which perpetuates these anomalies, should be rejected for that reason. (I say this even though I favor expanded legal immigration).

To get her green card, my wife, a legal immigrant, had to sign a waiver of her rights against double taxation under international tax treates (a form I-508), meaning she pays taxes to both her home country and the United States on the same income.

Meanwhile, illegal aliens work for cash and avoid paying income taxes to either the United States or their home country.

Supposedly, the Senate immigration bill would require illegal aliens to pay a "penalty" of $2000 for being in the country illegally to get their green cards.

That's less than my wife pays in double taxation every year to be here legally. And it's not radically more than the cost of replacing a lost green card.

Clearly, by treating illegal aliens better in this respect than my legal immigrant wife, the Senate bill is offering amnesty, and its sponsors' claims that it does not contain an amnesty cannot be taken seriously. Denying that the Senate bill is an amnesty for illegals is just politically correct wordplay.

Moreover, the Senate bill actually rewards illegal immigration, rather than just letting them stay on equal terms, by letting low-paid illegal aliens receive an earned income tax credit for years they were here illegally, even if their tax credit more than cancels out what little income taxes they, as low-wage unskilled workers, pay.

The Senate thus actually gives low-wage illegal aliens money for having been here illegally, more than offsetting the small $2000 fee it imposes on them for having been here illegally.

And Senators Kennedy and McCain had the gall to accuse those who object to this taxpayer subsidy of illegal immigrants of racism, with McCain saying that people who oppose tax credits for illegal aliens want them to put to the "back of the bus" in a manner reminiscent of segregation.

By all means, expand opportunities for legal immigration. But don't give illegal aliens the right to receive taxpayer subsidies, such as earned income tax credits, affirmative action, in-state tuition, bilingual education and multilingual ballots, or food stamps. That's what the Senate immigration bill would permit.

(As someone who used to sue universities over their admissions policies, I have personally seen cases where illegal aliens were admitted to colleges with LSATs and index scores much lower than most rejected white citizen applicants.)

(The Seattle Times, amazingly, editorialized in favor of giving illegal aliens in-state tuition, and in favor of a Hispanic Washington state legislator's bill to exclude legal aliens from the in-state tuition available to illegal aliens, because illegal aliens, in its view, were more "disadvantaged" than legal aliens).

(Most of the users of food stamps at one grocery store where my immigrant wife shops are monolingual Spanish speakers, and most of them presumably receive such food stamps, despite their own undocumented status, because of their children born in the United States after coming here illegally).
5.29.2006 1:11pm
cj (mail):
With nearly 20 years in state university administration, I'd have to second the opinion that Mr. M Y doesn't know what he's talking about.

Whatever the visa status of the applicant, whether it is for a research assistantship, post-doc, or visiting scientist position (which then would open the door for a tenured professorship down-the-road), quality academics are interested in the *quality* of the applicant they are recruiting. And hiring them is merely a matter of knowing how to jump through the hoops of the 'red tape' in place.

Actually, it is one of the few positive aspects of academe.
5.30.2006 2:42am
cj--"Actually, it is one of the few positive aspects of academe." Ha! I love it! But I'm bitter myself.

We would have to close down our Mathematics and Physics departments at our research universities if it were not for the Eastern Europeans and Chinese who fill those spots. When my freshmen complain that their calc one prof "doesn't speak English," I give them the statistics on PhD's in math and physical sciences in the US. This ends the complaining. As James Burnham said: If there's no alternative, there's no problem.
5.30.2006 7:38am
John T (mail):
When my freshmen complain that their calc one prof "doesn't speak English," I give them the statistics on PhD's in math and physical sciences in the US.

Don't the not completely insignificant drain of all the security clearance-requiring jobs that want US citizens only, too. Some of those jobs are quite well paying, and they certainly do like math and physical science PhDs.

But yes, to echo everybody else, academic hiring is done on a worldwide basis, and the visa issues never stop a hire in the US and rarely elsewhere. (Now language issues, OTOH.)
5.30.2006 10:30am