Monday, November 22, 2004

Immigrants out, Arnie in

If Fareed Zakaria was born 30 years later than he was, his life might have followed a radically different course from the one it has. For one, he might have had his visa application to the US rejected, and ended up studying in St Xavier’s instead of Yale and Harvard, and joining the IAS instead of being the brilliant journalist he is. In his latest column for Newsweek, Zakaria writes about how less and less foreign students make it to the US every year because of how cumbersome US visa procedures have become. He writes:

Some Americans might say, "Good riddance, it's their loss." Actually the greater loss is ours. American universities benefit from having the best students from across the globe. But the single most deadly effect of this trend is the erosion of American capacity in science and technology. The U.S. economy has powered ahead in large part because of the amazing productivity of America's science and technology. Yet that research is now done largely by foreign students. The National Science Board (NSB) documented this reality last year, finding that 38 percent of doctorate holders in America's science and engineering work force are foreign-born. Foreigners make up more than half the students enrolled in science and engineering programs. The dirty little secret about America's scientific edge is that it's largely produced by foreigners and immigrants.

He ends his piece with the words, “Every visa officer today lives in fear that he will let in the next Muhammad Atta. As a result, he is probably keeping out the next Bill Gates.”

And maybe even a future president of the USA. In the New York Times, William Safire writes about the growing support for the move to amend the contitution so that foreign-born Americans can stand for the presidency, which they are currently barred from doing. It has been a topic much discussed in recent times, always in the context of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California who was born in Austria. Safire tells us that much of the opposition to any such amendment will come from those who don’t quite want to see Schwarzenegger become the next president. He writes:

My guess is that most liberals will be conflicted as this issue develops; antidiscrimination is an article of faith, but they don't want a yodeling Republican cowboy in the White House. Contrariwise, some right-wingers who look askance at a pro-choice candidate who is comfortable with gays are also closet nativists.

Yet both camps know that Hispanics make up the swingiest ethnic vote, growing each year, and could be influenced mightily by an issue like equal rights for immigrants.

I am not either pro- or anti-Schwazenegger – how good a president he would make can only be guessed at by his gubernatorial record, and it’s too soon to pronounce judgement on that – but I find it disconcerting that the issue of such an amendment should be viewed through the prism of Schwarzenegger-as-president. Either the amendment is right on principle, or it is wrong. It should be supported, or opposed, on just those grounds, not the politically expedient grounds of his being a Republican, or on political considerations such as how different votebanks will react to it.

And maybe Arnie should do something about those visa problems. Chase George W down a corridor with a bazooka, perhaps?

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