Bryan Caplan  

Doesn't Academia Already Have De Facto Free Immigration?

Skepticism About Junk... My Rejoinder to Michael Tanner...

A number of economists have pledged their support for free immigration for professors in response to a challenge my Matt Yglesias. I'm happy to sign on. But I'm rather puzzled by this whole discussion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I can tell, academia already has de facto free immigration. Yes, foreign profs have to do some annoying paperwork, but if a U.S. university wants to hire a foreign prof, how often does the law stand in the way?

I've been inside the sausage factory of academic hiring over a dozen times now. Professors without U.S. citizenship are often candidates. No one ever mentions their nationality as an obstacle to making an offer, and no offer ever falls through because of immigration problems. Similarly, over half of the students at Princeton with me were foreign, and none of them ever even hinted that immigration law stood in the way of a career in the U.S.

Is my experience so atypical? Academic victims of U.S. immigration law, please correct me if I'm wrong!

Update: Read the comments, they're good!

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Barkley Rosser writes:

Guess I tend to agree with you on this one, having just been through a hiring process. I would say that there was just the slightest edge given to people with "straightforward" visa situations, that is either citizenship or green cards, but not much. In the end, at JMU we have hired a foreigner without a green card in a tenure track slot for this coming fall.

Over on Maxspeak I debated this issue with Dean Baker, who shows up on Yglesias pushing the argument that freer immigration of economists would really have a big impact. I just do not see it. Part of it is that it really is already pretty free. The other is from the demand side. Parents will not want to send their kids to colleges that do not have faculty with "respectable" reputations, that is, decent publication records. Any foreigner with a good such record can already get hired pretty easily. The academic salaries here are just not being propped up all that much because all of these non-publishing economists from India or wherever are being arbitrarily kept out.

However, I would not object to further reducing the restrictions that are in place, weak as they are.

Stephen Gordon writes:

Canadian immigration rules require us to put some boilerplate in the job announcements to the effect that preference will be given to Canadians, but in practice, it doesn't seem to matter when it comes to hiring. I've never heard of a case where a Canadian economics department was refused permission to hire their first choice because s/he wasn't Canadian.

Bartman writes:

Yglesias doesn't know what he's talking about. He's never been a grad student, so probably never thought that much about the hiring process. His degree was in philosophy, which is perhaps less populated by foreign faculty than any discipline outside English Lit. A quick look at he Econ faculty list at Harvard shows that about half of the names are "foreign-sounding."

As it stands, only about a quarter of all economics doctorates awarded in the US go to Americans, and many of those non-American grads get jobs in the US.

Someone should tell Yglesias to either inform himself or shut his yap, but that advice seldom works with philosophy grads.

quadrupole writes:

There are some exceptions to this general rule.

I was in physics when India and Pakistan detonated their test nukes. Suddenly there was a big push to exclude Indian and Pakistani scientists who worked in or studied matters that might help their countries nuclear programs. This made it almost impossible for a time to come to the US if your research was in nuclear physics.

Unfortunately, the State Department isn't particularly savy about science, and so they also ended up excluding a lot of non-nuclear physicists who were doing nuclear sounding things. I was aware of one astrophysicist who was exluded because he had once published a paper on 'nucleogenesis', the study of the formation of atomic nuclei in stars.

In a way though, these incidents where the exception that proved the rule. Everyone was shocked because it was just a given that a scientist could move across borders freely, and suddenly that wasn't true.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Well, there has been a general problem since 9/11 of hysteria regarding visas, which has affected negatively the willingness and ability of foreigners to come to study in the US. This has been ridiculously self-defeating, although part or the more general hysteria about immigration.

Anyway, I would suggest that these visa-related problems have had a much more restrictive effect than the mere existence of the rules and restrictions about hiring foreigners in the economics profession.

some foreign student writes:

Since I am a foreign grad. student, I think that immigration law does not lead many foreigners, let them be grad students or faculty, to stay out of the US. However, I do know of cases were it did.

I am studying outside of the US, but spent one year at an economics department last year. Therefore, I went through the whole VISA process required for foreign graduate students. This year, I am coming back to attend a 2 week summer school. My F-1 Visa is still valid, however US immigration law now requires that this one gets unvalidated, that I go through the whole application process again, including paying 200$ application fees and showing up at the embassy, where I will have to wait in line for about 2 hours, just to get the F-1 Visa changed into a J-1, which is the one I need for this school. This of course requires me to collect all the forms as well as additional documentation which prooves that I will return to my home country after the two-week school. (remember that that's what itr is all for: a two-week program...)

And by the way, I know the story of a Harvard grad. student who was denied entry to the US because of VISA issues, and he could not arrive at Harvard to attend the program for about two or three month, until the problem was resolved.
Espescially if you plan to leave the US for a while, US immigration law makes it quite difficult (meaning that it takes quite some effort) to return. I do not really see the sense of all that, to be honest.

some foreign student writes:

and one more point:

it is true that law is not in the way for a US university to hire foreign faculty. (to my limited knowledge).
However what I know is, that restictions put on family members, for example the husband or wife, are quite harsh. For them, there are though restrictions on the jobs they can take, if they are allow to work at all!! Therefore, stricter US immigration laws, and in my opinion espescially the restrictions put on direct family members, are rather a reason for foreigners not to go to the US, even if a US university would like to hire one. And I guess thats what the immigration debate should be about, right?

Acad Ronin writes:

I suspect US immigration laws were more of a problem pre-1965 or so and the reform in immigration law. Before that change, you had to come in under a nationality quota. My family came in under a creative definition of my father's nationality. I have participated in and observed hiring in B-schools since the early 1980s, and I am not aware of any problems in hiring foreigners to include at least one of the following: Greek, Turk, Indian, Brit, Irish, Israeli, Indian, Chinese, Czech, Australian, Swede, Dane, Spaniard, French, and probably others that now escape my memory. The only problems I recall were with one Greek and one Turk, both of whom chose to go home first for a year of obligatory military service, but there the hitch was home country regulations, not US ones.

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