Immigration and Jobs

A couple of thoughts about immigration. It seems that there is a widespread belief in the US that immigrants take jobs from Americans. It makes superficial sense if you also assume that the number of jobs to be filled is fixed and that just about anyone can do any kind of work.

Both assumptions are mostly false. Here is an example that illustrates why.

I keep hearing native-born Americans trained in various high-tech fields who claim that they are unemployed because of competition from low-cost H1B visa holders. H1B visas go to foreigners with skills deemed to be needed by the American economy. A large number of H1B visa holders are from India and many are from China; they also come from a wide variety of other countries, including Russia, France, Bulgaria, etc. The implicit affirmation is that were such visas stopped completely, those who complain would step right into the vacant jobs.

Two things. First the claim that foreign H1B visa holders work for less is largely unsubstantiated although it should be easy to investigate such abuse. Second, I think it’s illegal to pay H1B holders less than Americans. Why would many employers risk a distracting lawsuit? Of course, a few might because there are irrational people everywhere.

Next and last: Hundreds of thousands of high-tech jobs are going begging as I write. Are employers so vicious that they would rather have the work not done at all than to give it to a credentialed American? Or is it more likely that the unemployed native-born high-tech workers have skills that do not match demand? If the second supposition is correct, ending the H1B visa program would cause even more high-tech positions to remain empty. Of course, this would have a negative effect on everyone, on every American’s prosperity.

Missing from this narrative: the possibility that high power, accelerated re-training programs would bring unemployed Americans the skills the high-tech sector requires.

I have to begin a confession that’s going to make me even more unpopular locally than I already am. I mean unpopular among my conservative friends. I taught in an MBA program in the middle of Silicon Valley for 24 years, two quarters each year. It was an evening program squarely directed at the ambitious hard-working. During that span of time, I must have had 150 students from India. I remember only one who was a bad student. I was intrigued, so I made inquiries. Sure enough, he had an Indian first name and last name, and the corresponding appearance but he was born in the US.* I cannot report so glowingly about other, non-Indian students that sat in my classroom through the years.

This little narrative proves nothing, of course. Consider it food for thought. Do it especially if you voted for Pres. Trump – as I did.

Reminder: H1B visas are awarded to individuals with an occupational qualification deemed to be in short supply in the US. Right now, it’s likely that most of those who get an H1B are trained in some IT area but that’s not all. For a long time, farriers from everywhere could easily get one. (If you don’t know what a farrier is, shame on you and look it up.)

There are other – presumably non-specialized – categories of immigrants who are widely suspected of taking jobs from Americans. The truth is not always easy to discern, not even conceptually. Five or six miles from where I live in Santa Cruz, there are growers who are tearing off their hair. Their problem is that they can’t figure out who is going to pick the crops they are now putting into the ground. As I have said repeatedly, the Mexicans they counted on in years past have largely stopped coming.

A quarter of a mile from where I live, and in the same direction, there are dozens of perfectly healthy US-born Americans who are working as “sales associates.” The apparent conceptual issue is this: sales associates earn $10/hr while a moderately experienced crop picker earns $15. The question arises of why we don’t see a full exodus from the sales positions to jobs that pay 50% more?

I think it’s lazy to call the US-born sales associates “lazy.” The reality is that the Mexicans who came, and are still coming, to pick vegetables and fruits in California overwhelmingly came from a rural population. They were reared under conditions where almost everyone around them labored in the fields. When they arrive in the US – legally through family reunion – or illegally, they are ready to take picking jobs. They then just do here more or less the same work they would do at home but for five times the pay or more.

In American society that kind of population disappeared several generations ago through mechanization and, of course, through the importation of foreign labor, precisely. Native-born Americans won’t do the work because it’s alien to their background. I think US-born people of Mexican ascendancy whose parents labored in the field won’t do the work either. Their parents do what they can to make their own work experience alien to their children. I am not surprised, that’s another expression of the American dream. It’s  what many would do back in Mexico but then, why emigrate?

I am pretty sure that any immigration reform should include a temporary agricultural program, a sort of H1A ( “A” for “Agriculture”) visa. It would allow foreigners to come to the US legally, just to work in the fields and for a set period only. It would not lead to permanent residency, nor, of course, to citizenship. Such a program existed between the forties and the early sixties, if memory serves. It was called the “Bracero program.” I don’t know why it was terminated. (Perhaps a reader can tell us.)

Mexicans would be the first to take advantage of such a program. As Mexico’s economy develops, they may be replaced by Central Americans and, eventually, by Africans. Such a program would sidestep the kind of assimilation problem France, for example, is facing right now with its North African population.

PS Personally, I think Mexicans make good immigrants to the US. I would bet than in ten years we will be begging them to come.


* Disclosure: I am married to an Indian woman. She is not in high-tech unfortunately.

Regional jealousies and transboundary rivers in South Asia

In the final reckoning, Pakistan got about 80 per cent of the Indus and India 20 per cent. India has limited rights on the western rivers and cannot undertake projects on those rivers without providing all the details to Pakistan and dealing with Pakistan’s objections. Why did India put itself in that position? The answer is that if Pakistan got the near-exclusive allocation of the three western rivers, India for its part got the eastern rivers. This was important from the point of view of the Indian negotiators because the water needs of Punjab and Rajasthan weighed heavily with them in seeking an adequate allocation of Indus water for India. Yet, Punjab had a serious grievance over the signing of the IWT [Indus Waters Treaty] by the union government. Citing provisions of the IWT which caused transfer of three river waters to Pakistan, Punjab had terminated all its water-sharing agreements with its neighbouring states in 2004.

The demand of Kutch (in Indian Gujarat), which used to fall into a catchment area of River Indus, decades back, was not taken into consideration despite many petitions, arguing about their historical claim on its water, sent by the prominent Kutchi leaders, in 1950s, to India’s Ministry of Irrigation and Power. Also people from the Indian side of Kashmir always show their ire against the IWT. On 3 April 2002, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly, cutting across party affiliations, called for a review of the treaty. The state government has been contending that in spite of untapped hydroelectric potential, the state has been suffering from acute power deficiency due to restrictions put on the use of its rivers by the Indus Treaty. They claim that their interests were not taken into consideration and their views were not taken while signing the treaty. (6-7)

This is from my latest paper, “Disputed Waters: India, Pakistan and the Transboundary Rivers,” published by Studies in Indian Politics, and which you can find here.

Here is a map of all the Indian states mentioned in the excerpt above:

blog-india

 

Narratives, Impacts and the Actors: Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War

That’s the subject of my newest paper, which was just published by India Quarterly. Here is the abstract:

Both the Bangladesh state and society are yet to settle the questions over and narratives related to the Liberation War of 1971. Broadly, there are two groups with contradictory and conflicting interpretations of the events related to that war. This has also led to the mushrooming of militant groups in the country. The beginning of trial of perpetrators of Liberation War crimes since 2010 and the execution of a few of the leaders has further polarised the society and politics of Bangladesh. The existing debates over the Bangladesh Liberation War cannot be studied without looking into the roles of India and Pakistan. The two countries have their own interpretations and political fallout of the 1971 liberation war.

Here is the full paper (pdf).

Mohammad Iqbal’s writings on Islam and on the partition of India

That is the topic of a paper of mine that has just been published in the Journal of Punjab Studies. Here is the abstract:

Iqbal was a poet, religious philosopher, political activists, and supporter of autonomy to Muslim majority provinces in British India, but cannot be regarded as the ‘main’ architect of Pakistan. His basic concern was over the falling status of Muslims of India during British rule and ways to arrest the situation. His speech in 1930 at Allahabad session of the All India Muslim League is being always cited as his support to Pakistan, but later on he never made his position very clear over the issue of partition of British India. Yet his contribution to the formation of Pakistan cannot be entirely ruled out because he was speaking out the minds of the Muslim minorities who, by 1920s, not not only raised the demand, but started whispering about having a separate socio-political space. He was a towering figure of Islamic modernism, a great poet and also a religious philosopher, whose thinking still has considerable significance. His writings are still being read and researched in India and Pakistan.

The link to the whole paper can be found here [pdf].

An overview of India-China boundary disputes

I have a new paper that has just been published in Asian Affairs. Here is an excerpt:

Questions over the India-China border are not a new phenomenon. They are asked whenever there is a Sino-Indian state visit. Despite having close to $100 billion of trade between them, China and India have failed to bring their frontier disputes to an end. In the 1980s and 1990s it was thought that the increasing economic cooperation between the two countries would act as a prompt to resolve their political disputes, but it has not. Military stand-offs and confrontations between border guards from India and China occur at regular intervals. To address their boundary disputes, they have engaged in frequent dialogues (17 rounds of focused dialogues can be counted between 1988 and 2015), but nothing substantive has yet been yielded through such engagements.

The boundary disputes between India and China have their ultimate origin in the ‘Great Game’ played during the British Empire. At present, the two main areas of dispute along the Himalayan frontier are the western sector (Aksai Chin around 37,250 sq km/14,380 square miles) and the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh, around 83,740 sq km/32,330 sq mile). This article traces the roots of the boundary disputes between India and China and attempts to discuss sources of tensions and probable solutions.

The link to the whole paper can be found here [pdf].

“Conflicts in South Asia Will Go On and On”

That is the title of my recent article (pdf) on the long-term effects that the British partition of its Indian colony has had on South Asia. Here is the abstract:

This brief article, an extended review of two recent important publications, problematises the continuity of inter-state and intra-state conflicts since the partition of British India in 1947. Territory and identity are the main triggers of those conflicts, many of which will remain, while others will take on new forms relating to resource scarcity, mainly water. Conflicts are unlikely to be settled fully through various interventions, as sub-dimensions will linger on, develop new roots and new issues will constantly crop up. The article argues that past, present and future are visibly and invisibly connected through the fallout of patterns of myth and memory, dissatisfaction with the status quo and present conditions and often completely unrealistic expectations of a better future. Identifying elements of interconnectedness as central, the review assesses the contributions these two new studies make for a deeper understanding of the scenario of continuing conflict within the context of South Asian Studies.

It’s been published by South Asia Research, and is pessimistic throughout…

South Asia and the Glass Ceiling

That is the broad topic of my latest article (pdf), which was just published by Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies: Alam-e-Niswan. Here is the abstract:

South Asia is one of the most violent societies in the world, and also the most patriarchal. Both characteristics have led to continuity of violence, in which women are the silent and non-recognised victims. The situation is such despite the fact that women have occupied the highest office in their respective countries. The post-1991 wave of globalisation has led to the emergence of two parallel societies, based on different values, in almost all South Asian countries. In both societies women are being exploited and violence has been unleashed on them. Revolution in information and communication technology has helped in the dissemination of patriarchal values through ‘objectification’ of women in the name of ‘liberation’ from the grip of tradition. These patriarchal trends are clearly reflected in the making of domestic policies as well as formulating foreign policies of South Asian states. In such a situation, an academic argument for feminist foreign policy is relevant, though not encouraged by social actors.

You can also find the article on my ‘About…‘ page here at NOL.