US Immigration Law – A Global point of view

It’s almost 11pm here in Chambery, France and as I am posting this comment. I have taken a two weeks trip to visit Europe for vacation and a brief visit with some clients. As the immigration debate heats up in the US, it is very interesting to see how the Europeans see the changes in our immigration systems. I have included a few comments collected from various sources here in Europe. I have also included some information about immigration law in Europe and other countries and what concerns the Europeans have with their immigration systems.

Let’s start with England and what they think about the current immigration debate:

Nobody who has been watching the debate is holding their breath for an immigration reform law by the end of the summer. The conflicts of interest are deeply bitter and intense. Also, the 2008 presidential election has informally started already, more than a year earlier than in the history of the United States. By the time the fall of 2007 arrives, there will be a conflict of the upcoming holiday season, deadlines regarding budgeting and laws for the Iraq conflict, and the 2008 election season will have begun in earnest.

With all that said, immigration reform may well come by the end of the summer. If it does not, then it may not come around again until after the 2008 election about 18 months from now.

Immigration Proposals in Europe:

Earlier this month, the European Commission published proposals to levy penalties against businesses in the European Union that engage in employing illegal migrants. The Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini, cited an estimate that 7% to 16% of the European Unions gross domestic product is conducted ‘off the books.’
“The near certainty of finding illegal work in EU member states is the main driving force behind illegal immigration. The EU must act together,” Mr. Frattini said.

The European Commission is primarily interested in controlling illegal immigration into Europe. By denying undocumented people the opportunity to work, it is hoped this will be one incentive to help prevent people from attempting illegal entry into the EU an atttractive option.

Businesses caught employing illegal immigrants face jail sentences, loss of business licenses and hefty fines under the new proposals. The proposals mirror a number of similar ones made in the United States during the past year as immigration reform became a hot political topic.

Fines for offenders could include the cost of repatriating illegal workers, as well as payment of taxes or social security that would have been required had workers been legal. People and businesses could be forced to pay wages to illegal immigrants that either were not paid at all or were paid below the legal limits.

Current estimates run between three and eight million people illegally in the EU currently, although not all of them participate in the labor force. Approximately 350,000 to 500,000 become illegal immigrants in the EU each year, either by entry or overstaying visas that become invalid. No figures were cited regarding the numbers that leave each year.

Penalties would not be limited to only businesses. Individuals who hire people without a legal right to work also face trouble.

Anyone caught employing illegal immigrants would be banned from taking part in national public procurement contracts or from receiving subsidies for up to five years. The measure would affect farms caught employing illegal crop pickers, for example, that benefit from EU or national subsidies.

Should the proposals be adopted, employers will have to check that people they hire have proper residence permits and submit notifications to controlling national authorities regarding new hires. Employers who cannot document that they have complied with obligations to conduct such checks before recruiting third-country nationals would be subject to the penalties.

Let’s look at Japan’s problems with Immigration:

Japan has a long history of keeping a tight lid on immigration. Unlike many other countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, or Australia, there is no official immigration policy. In Japanese society, the subject is almost taboo.

However, in 2005 the population of the island nation began to drop, with the current growth rate at -0.088% (CIA, July 2007 estimate). If current trends continue, by 2050 the population will have declined by a quarter. The situation is even more dire when it is noted that a much larger percentage of the population will be too old to be in the productive work force, a situation faced by most westernized nations. In the case of Japan, it is much more severe.

According to Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, “the policy has been to keep people out if they intend to stay permanently.”
According to Mitoji Yabunaka, Japan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan will lift restrictions on immigration in an attempt to bolster the growing economy and combat the problem of an aging population.

“We’re ready to make Japan as open as possible. Clearly there’s the need for more immigration. We’re faced with all sorts of demographic questions,” said Yabunaka.

Yabunaka said that the government’s decision to allow 1,000 Filipino nurses to work in Japan was “a small beginning, but it is a beginning.”
However, the partnership – still in need of approval by the Philippines congress – requires migrant workers to spend six months learning Japanese and taking nursing courses. The final Japanese language examination has been criticized as being extremely difficult.

Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, agrees. “Nobody will be able to pass the tests and they’ll all be sent home,” he said. During his tenure as head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in 2004, he said that Japan should allow in 20 million immigrants over the next fifty years.

He also wrote a book called ‘Nyukan Senki’ (Immigration Battle Diary), in which he stated that Japan must embrace multi-ethnic society and become target for immigrants from all over Asia.

The current population of the island nation is 127,433,494, with a birth rate of 8.1 births per 1,000 population and a death rate of 8.98 deaths per 1,000 population. The total fertility rate is 1.23 children born per woman (CIA, July 2007 estimates). A fertility rate of 2.1 is generally considered necessary to sustain most populations under normal circumstances.

Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand are several more countries that are experiencing very similar problems, although each of those countries are either engaged in aggressive immigrant recruitment efforts or are in the midst of major immigration policy changes to help remediate the problem.

There appear to be other attempts at a more open immigration policy. An economic panel for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed last week to increase the number of foreign students as a method to bring in skilled labor from overseas. Whether this will put a foot in the door and open discussion to a more liberal approach to immigration remains to be seen.

“It is ultimately the Japanese people who will decide this issue, but the problem is that there is no debate. The population is declining and the birth-rate is falling, and there is no way we will solve this just by encouraging more births. Now is our chance to begin talking about it seriously,” he said.

A taste of New Zealand’s immigration issues

According to Dr. Andrew Cleland, Chief Executive of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ), New Zealand’s budget for 2007 will create a greater shortage of professional engineers in the country.

“Budget announcements on research and development tax incentives as well as the extra investment in infrastructure, public transport and energy programs will significantly increase the demand for development engineers in a range of companies,” said Cleland.

“Government cannot rely on private enterprise alone. Investing in Government scholarships which are set at market prices will encourage professional engineers into Masterates and PhDs. This will create the pool of talent that will be required by industry.”
IPENZ states that New Zealand’s intent to reduce CO2 emissions will be unmanageable without attracting skilled migrant engineers from around the globe to assist in research and development.