Watch Out for 'Streamlining' in Immigration Policy Debates

By David North on November 12, 2009

It sounds harmless but the word "streamline" spells trouble in immigration policy debates.

Open Borders proponents are always wanting to "streamline" this or that immigration management procedure, all in the name of governmental efficiency.

They always talk in process terms, when what they really want to do is to change (and expand) the product, i.e., more immigrants or non-immigrants in a particular category. They play on the unpopularity of what they describe as red tape, and it is part of the continuing effort to twist the terminology in the immigration debate which I mentioned in an earlier blog.

All this reminds me of a conversation I had a few years back with one of the more thoughtful of the H-1B lobbyists, who represented some of the largest employers of these temporary workers. I don't think he thought he would be quoted years later, so I am leaving out his name.

"There's a reason for creating administrative hurdles in the process," was his message. "It keeps the lesser firms and the fly-by-nights out of the program."

He identified with the bigger, and presumably more responsible, employers of H-1Bs, and he did not want a program they found useful to be sullied by less responsible users of it. He was not making a restrictionist argument, but it was a reminder of the utility of a by-the-book decision-making process.

An example: A cheerful article in InformationWeek, an IT publication written for managers; it quoted a DHS official saying "We're getting away from snail mail and taking advantage of technology." The agency was announcing it was starting a program of electronic notifications of petition-approvals.

The DHS person sounded as if he was a flack for a diploma mill, rather than an official reporting the careful judgments of a decision-making body; after all there are two sides to the debate about the massive usage of temporary workers in the H-1B program.

Similarly, I read recently of a new wrinkle in the ever-expanding L-1 visa program, that brings employees of international firms to the U.S. for as long as seven years; now there is a special blanket approval process easing the requirements for the larger users of the program, as if larger users were less of a problem than smaller users.

I had exactly one personal experience with the administrative mechanics of a worker-migration program. At the time I was working on immigration research for a good-guy consulting firm in Washington that is no longer around. My colleagues were largely employed on contracts with USAID, in various garden spots of the universe, such as Sao Tome & Principe (an island nation off the coast of West Africa). The firm wanted to bring to the U.S., on a green card, an executive of ours from elsewhere in Africa; I knew and liked him and was aware that he was a member of an ethnic minority often persecuted in his home country.

So I agreed to write an application for a labor certification for the executive, Mr. X; the first step in the process being to get the U.S. Labor Department's approval. I poured over the regulations and wrote what I thought was an easily approvable application. Some months passed and then we got a letter from Labor.

The adjudicator had been over my application with a fine tooth comb and found some things he thought were lacking. For example, he had seen our financial reports and noticed that our profit margin was less than the salary we planned to pay Mr. X. I was forced to write a multi-page reply, pointing out that Mr. X was already on the payroll and thus we did not need a profit margin as large as his salary. It was finally approved and he later came to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

But what I had encountered – off-stage – was a single government employee using his limited power to stretch out the process, to make sure that only a persistent employer would wade through the process of bringing in someone from overseas. I only wish that there was more of that activity, and that it would be encouraged, not just tolerated, by our country's leaders.