The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Three weeks from today, I say goodbye to my life as a UNC undergrad and embrace an uncertain future.

Many of my friends have good entry-level jobs or plans to attend grad school. Some may just move in with their parents for a while. But the closest thing I have to a plan is a plane ticket to China.

It’s not my first time there; nor, I hope, will it be my last. I look forward to reliving my last trip to Asia, full of excitement, adventure and romance. But there is one thing I probably can’t look forward to: a job.

While globalization has created extremely mobile capital markets, global labor markets remain much more restrictive.

Governments across the world — including Chinese and American — maintain antiquated immigration laws that make little sense in a competitive global economy.

My B.S. from UNC is no small achievement, but it probably won’t get me a work visa.

The United States is a prime example of the mismatch between economic realities and actual public policy.

Immigrants are essential to the U.S. economy, in both low- and high-skill industries.

Of the 3 million workers hired each year for American crop harvests, only a quarter are legal residents. American farms couldn’t survive without foreign labor, and crackdowns on illegal immigration are threatening harvests.

High-tech industries are also strongly tied to foreign labor.

Famous tech giants like Intel and Google had foreign cofounders. In fact, more than half of all Silicon Valley start-ups between 1995 and 2005 had foreign-born cofounders. Those companies had $52 billion in revenue and employed 450,000 people.

Despite this economic dependence on foreign-born labor, U.S. immigration law is extremely restrictive. Only 65,000 H-1B visas for highly skilled workers are allowed each year under current law. As of September 2006, more than 1 million skilled foreigners were waiting to gain legal residency status.

With the increasing growth of Indian and Chinese economies, many foreigners who studied in American universities are choosing to return home rather than contribute to an American economy that cannot legally utilize their talents.

Less skilled workers face larger obstacles, since it’s even more difficult for them to enter the country. Without legal options, it should be no surprise that 12 million immigrants live and work in the U.S. illegally.

Discriminating against workers based on nationality is little different than racism, sexism or any other arbitrary and unjust prejudice.

We expect the law to protect employees from prejudices, but our immigration laws outright encourage it. What sense does it make, morally or economically, to restrict a person’s job prospects based on which side of an imaginary line he or she was born?

I would be more than happy to live and work in China and to contribute to their economic growth, just as many Chinese are eager to do the same here in America. Yet we are treated as burdens rather than blessings.

A global economy demands a global workforce, and it’s time for the nations of the world to recognize that fact and set aside nationalistic prejudice.

Tom VanAntwerp is a senior business major from Gastonia. E-mail him at vanantwerp@gmail.com

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