Sunday, March 01, 2009

Is Immigration the Key?

NY Times
Press Portal
All Africa

In a recent column for the New York Times, Tom Friedman argues that the United States should encourage highly-skilled workers to immigrate to the US. Friedman argues that the way to get out of the current financial crisis is not to resort to protectionism, but rather to have an “open door” policy that ensures the world’s best and brightest come to the US and work. This would help spur innovation because, as Friedman describes, the “more knowledge workers you have is an economy, the faster your incomes will rise.” Though, some recent actions by the US—including the “Buy American” clause in the stimulus bill and a restriction on banks receiving bailout money from hiring highly-skilled immigrants who work on a temporary basis—signal a reluctance to follow such policy prescriptions, it is unclear how the US will proceed.

Leon Issacson, a South African Immigration expert, is advocating a similar strategy for South Africa. Issacson believes that the global credit crisis presents a unique opportunity for South Africa to use foreign labor to develop key industries; such as, information technologies, construction and engineering. Countries like the US and the UK are seeing their construction industries shrink, while South Africa’s construction industry continues to grow. Issacson see that this as a chance to convince skilled construction workers to move to South Africa for construction jobs. Though Issacson acknowledges that South Africa might not be the most attractive place to move, he states that South Africa has many attributes—like low cost of living—that make it attractive. He summarizes his argument as follows: “Through this unexpected credit crisis, South Africa has an opportunity where it didn’t before. It is essential to make use of this while it is available to us. Learning from skilled foreigners will empower our growing economy ten fold. We look on government to set an example in this respect.”

Also on the African front, President Obama’s administration is close to choosing a head of the African Bureau at the State Department. This position is likely to be filled by Johnnie Carson, a career diplomat who has extensive experience serving as ambassador to many African nations. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also recently met with George Clooney to discuss the administration’s position on Sudan. The administration said that it was conducting a policy review of the situation. With many other issues taking precedence, it will be a while before the administration announces any type of plan for Africa.

1) How successful will South Africa be in encouraging workers to immigrate? Do you think the US should follow Tom Friedman’s advice?
2) President Obama has already stated that it is unlikely that the US will be able to increase international aid, much of which would have gone to Africa. Do you think it is important for the Obama administration to move quickly in building relationship with African countries? If the administration waits, do you think this will be interpreted by Africans as ambivalence on the US’s part?

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