Nov 3, 2010

Immigration policy and the "brain drain"

Terrence Chan, a professional poker player from Canada, calls it quits on the USA after an infuriating experience with the DHS:
I was pretty pissed to be turned away. I was enraged, really; no other way to put it. The officer told me (as he was sending me on the road back into Canada) that I was welcome to try again with my documentation but if I were attempt to try to another port of entry that I would be arrested. I grabbed my passport and snarled that I wasn't likely to come back again, ever.

A few hours later though, I cooled down. I had this plan, and I wanted to see it through. So I had my dad send me all my papers from Hong Kong -- my properties, bank statements, even water and electric bills. I collected as much stuff as I had on hand in Canada with the same. I did my research online and was told by a dozen people that if I had all my shit in order there was "no way" I'd be denied a second time. I even allowed myself to be confident that this time, they'd (perhaps grudgingly) let me in.

We were all quickly proven wrong.

My trip today was pretty much the same as the one on Thursday. But it was apparent their mind was already made up, even with me having put together all my paperwork. They went through every piece of paperwork I had and found something wrong with it in one way or another. I had last month's internet bill in Vancouver and my electric bill in Hong Kong; they now told me I needed six months of bills. They said I needed credit card statements with activity to prove I was spending time in those places. They said I needed a job with pay stubs, and they said that that job had to be where I was physically present, such that it would not be possible for me to do it in the States. They didn't like that my plane ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong was only for two months, even though neither of those places is in the United States. He even tried to twist my words of "I'm going to train martial arts" as meaning that I was going to work illegally. "If you don't have a visa for that, you can't come in."

Quite simply, they never had any intent of letting me in the country, no matter what I showed, said, or did. There is no conceivable way that I could have convinced them otherwise. I was fingerprinted again and once again shown the door...

Goodbye, America. It's been fun, and I'm sad it had to come to this, but we're through. It's not me -- it's you.
The "brain drain" often talked about in South Africa, where rich countries actively poach the best and brightest from developing countries, has at least partial roots in this kind of defensive immigration policy. This paper by Bhorat (pdf) argues that the brain drain has as much to do with restrictive immigration policy as it does with increased emigration:
The worsening of the situation, however, is due less to an increase on the emigration side than to a decrease on the immigration one. Statistically, the deficit of skills is strongly related to a decrease in immigration. The actual brain drain — that is the net loss of skilled human resources — is not directly and essentially tied to the social and political change of the mid-90s; it started significantly earlier than the onset of these changes. [...]

Much of the decrease in immigration from the region is due to the restrictive policy led by the Department of Home Affairs. In order to protect the labour market from competition of non-SA citizens, the department has strongly limited the access of foreigners to work and residence permits.
Until the South African education system is given a complete overhaul, it seems impossible that enough skilled graduates will be produced domestically to meet the demand. A less restrictive immigration policy, at least for the highly skilled, would be wise.

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