Friday, April 07, 2006

An Immigrant's Perspective on Immigration

I must admit that I haven't read many of the articles on the current immigration debate. When the news talks about it, I change the channel. Normally, I make it a point to keep up with as much local and national news as possible. This issue, however, is a sore point for me.

I was born and raised in Canada. I have a university degree. Six years ago, I was offered my dream job, the one I currently hold, in the Bay Area of California. Finding a solution to the multitude of immigration issues was one of the most difficult and stressful situations I've ever had to deal with.

The categories for work visas are severely out-of-date. When I was on my NAFTA visa, I had to refer to myself as a "Computer Systems Analyst." I'm not an analyst, I'm a software engineer. But there was no category for that. So Computer Systems Analyst was my name. If I had said anything else while crossing the border, they wouldn't have let me back in the country. Those outdated categories still persist to this day.

Any person who is hired for a job that does not fit into a small, restrictive list of job types is turned away. One could have a four-year Bachelor's degree and a job offer in hand, but if their job did not fit into this tiny, archaic list, they would be denied entry. Luckily, I did not encounter this issue, but there are many others who have.

The requirements for each visa are completely out of line with reality. A person with years of experience and training in an industry, being offered a job in that industry, but whose degree is in a different discipline, is turned away at the border. I've known at least two people in this situation. Just because one's degree is in a different discipline does not indicate that they are not fit to work in the job for which a company has already hired them. Obviously that company believes that this person is a good match for the job. But the visa restrictions on degree relevance render it powerless to bring that person in.

The heart of the current controversy is that of illegal immigration. People that snuck into this country and 'bypassed' the system are proposed to be given citizenship. Understandably, those that went through the expensive and painful process of legal immigration are upset with this, as are those who are afraid of criminals and terrorists.

But this begs my question: Why does this country have no work visa provisions for skilled, blue-collar workers ? Why is there absolutely no way for law-abiding technical people in skilled trades to enter this country legally ?

My former husband is an automotive technician. When we relocated here, he was told that there was no work visa for his job type, regardless of the fact that the trade was in need of 60,000 workers nationwide. This is inconceivable to me. There is absolutely no reason why an upstanding worker from another country, in a skilled trade that is desperate for hires, cannot be a contributing member of the American society. Luckily, he was able to fit his apprenticeship into a training visa. But any other technician, who had several years into the trade and did not qualify for an apprenticeship, would have been out of luck.

This is my challenge to the American government: Make it legal for law-abiding, non-terrorist, upstanding citizens of other countries in blue-collar and skilled lines of work to enter this country with a valid work visa. Of course, this would need to be implemented with the same vigorous controls as the H-1B visa to ensure that US citizens are not being replaced or undercut by immigrant workers. But by expanding the scope of the current work visa program, and updating the unnecessarily restrictive categories in the current professional visas, the illegal immigration 'problem' will be lessened significantly.

Of course we want to keep out the bad people. But why can't we let in the good people, the hard workers, those that just want to make a good life for themselves and their families ?

That is my challenge. Who has the guts to meet it ?


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