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Immigration for Academics:

Matthew Yglesias challenged those academics who signed the economists' open-letter on immigration to endorse scrapping the H1B visa system "and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors." "If there's really no difference between 'us' and 'them' economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy," writes Yglesias. No problem, say Brad DeLong and Greg Mankiw (via Daniel "Bring It On" Drezner).

tefta (mail):
What? Speak louder, I can't hear you.
5.28.2006 9:21pm
Tennessean (mail):
Mr. DeLong is getting credit for being a lot braver than he is. Mr. Y writes that "economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy." That system is, for most of us, only the American system. American professors are not protected by the German system, the French system, the Russian system, etc. Indeed, neither the original letter nor Mr. Y were talking about any restrictions on immigration other than American in some restrictions (where the challenged professor is not American, substitute, do not combine, the local government for the American government).

So when Mr. DeLong "call[s] on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors," he isn't taking nearly the brave stand Mr. Y invited. Indeed, I'd hazard that American talent would, for quite a while, greatly benefit as we'd export professors into all kinds of places while few outsiders have the preparation, resources, or credentials to make it into American universities. Way to spin Professors.
5.28.2006 9:34pm
Hans Gruber (www):
Don't they both have tenure?

So brave!
5.28.2006 9:56pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
If this were a "truly brave stance" in favor of a free market in employment for university professors, wouldn't the aforementioned professors have to call for abolishing tenure and taxpayer funding of their employers?
5.28.2006 9:58pm
Zach (mail):
So when Mr. DeLong "call[s] on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors," he isn't taking nearly the brave stand Mr. Y invited. Indeed, I'd hazard that American talent would, for quite a while, greatly benefit as we'd export professors into all kinds of places while few outsiders have the preparation, resources, or credentials to make it into American universities. Way to spin Professors.

I think you've got the situation backward here. The American job market for PhDs, at least in the sciences, is much better than the rest of the world. That's why we end up with so many foreign PhDs here, and so few American PhDs in foreign countries. (Bear in mind that most people have a preference to work in their country of origin.) If the economists are being misleading at all, it's probably by taking Yglesias's challenge as given and not speculating about whether the job market for university professors is really affected all that much by difficulties in getting immigration papers.
5.28.2006 10:32pm
Shangui (mail):
I'd hazard that American talent would, for quite a while, greatly benefit as we'd export professors into all kinds of places while few outsiders have the preparation, resources, or credentials to make it into American universities. Way to spin Professors.

1. US professors, overall, get paid far better than their colleagues in Europe.

2. I would say that most profs in Europe and a great number in Asia have the "preparations, reasources, [and] credentials to make it into American universities." What leads you to say that it's otherwise?
5.28.2006 10:41pm
eeyn524:
Indeed, I'd hazard that American talent would, for quite a while, greatly benefit as we'd export professors into all kinds of places while few outsiders have the preparation, resources, or credentials to make it into American universities.

Tennessean: how about a deal if Delong's idea is put into effect: You give me $5 for every resume I can find of an Indian PhD applying to work in the US, and I give you $50 for every resume of a US PhD applying to work in India.
5.28.2006 10:46pm
Zach (mail):
2. I would say that most profs in Europe and a great number in Asia have the "preparations, reasources, [and] credentials to make it into American universities." What leads you to say that it's otherwise?

Heck, a pretty fair fraction of them come to the US for grad school or a postdoc. What "preparation, resource, or credential" does a domestic grad student get over a foreign grad student in the exact same program, working in the exact same office?
5.28.2006 10:51pm
eeyn524:
Of course it depends on the field, but in some disciplines (for example CS or Electrical Eng) academic positions really are a case of "jobs Americans won't do".

We had 240 applicants for our last openings, and ~220 of them were foreign born. Out of the 220 the majority had a PhD from a US university. The 20 American candidates in general weren't competitive in terms of publications, but the handful that were competitive more or less sneered at us when we called them to offer an interview.

In any case, the current H1B visa system is more of a hassle/tax than a real barrier, since there's no H1B quota limit for faculty positions. Zach has it right - lifting the restrictions won't have much impact.
5.28.2006 11:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
DeLong is giving you the sleeves off his vest. It's very easy, and not at all courageous to support something that is never going to happen. For one thing, we have an asymmetrical situation as regards language. An academic from Zagreb is probably already literate in English because English is now the Lingua Franca of the international academic world. How many American academics are literate in Serbo-Croat? I would think very few. So unrestricted immigration for academics is going to be pretty much a one-way street. In the technical fields, we should be keeping people out not letting more in. The consequences of technology transfer from us to them is going to be pretty evident in the years to come and it's not going to be in our interest.
5.28.2006 11:20pm
Shangui (mail):
In the technical fields, we should be keeping people out not letting more in. The consequences of technology transfer from us to them is going to be pretty evident in the years to come and it's not going to be in our interest.

When you say "keeping people out" do you mean 1)keeping foreigners out of our graduate schools in technical fields or 2)keeping foreigners out of technical jobs?

What we clearly should be doing is bringing talented foreign candidates in on student visas and then making as easy as possible for them to stay and work in this country after finishing their degrees. The present system in which we encourage people we have trained to then return to their home countries is absurd. We should want the talent to come here and both add to the strength of our educational system and our technical fields, especially if they'll work for less money. How could this be bad for the US in the long run?
5.28.2006 11:55pm
chrismn (mail):
In economics, there are simply no barriers to entry. If a foreign Ph.D. student (or older foreign professor) can get a U.S. university to hire him, he can get a visa to do so. No university that I know of thinks in terms of "is this the best American we can get for this position" as opposed to "is the best person we can get for this position." The reason that DeLong and Mankiw are fine with open borders for University professors is that we already have them.

As for having tenure, tenure doesn't guarantee you ever getting even a nominal raise again. DeLong and Mankiw's salaries are set by the market for economics professors under the current no barriers setup. So if the lack of barriers increases the supply of those who sell a substitute for their services, their support of no barriers does come at a personal cost.
5.29.2006 1:18am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"When you say "keeping people out" do you mean 1)keeping foreigners out of our graduate schools in technical fields or 2)keeping foreigners out of technical jobs?"

I mean both, as both contribute to a potentially dangerous technology and knowledge transfer. The US has a population of nearly 300 million people, and that should be adequate to supply our universities and industry.

Certain fields like computer science already have serious oversupply of graduates. It makes no sense to train additional people when we don't use the people we already have. I know the industry constantly yells "shortage" to get Congress to raise the cap on H1-b non-immigrant visas, but they are lying. If we had a shortage, salaries would be increasing and employers wouldn't be incredibly picky.

Of course if the universities have a larger pool of applicants to draw on, the average student quality should go up. But this way of thinking does not factor in other costs and risks. Technical careers are already well on their way to becoming a "commodity occupation." This means there are no entry barriers, and with the whole world to draw on, the supply will keep increasing until Americans will opt out of those careers. It's already happened in Computer Science. Foreigners don't opt out (yet) because they look at university enrollment as a path to the green card and eventual citizenship.
5.29.2006 1:29am
MarkM:
I will echo what others have said in noting that immigration restrictions, although annoying, are not the main thing that keeps foreigners from becoming professors at American universities. In economics anyway, to get a tenure-track position, you are practically required to have a PhD from an American university (Oxford, Cambridge and LSE will do but they are exceptions). This is a mixture of parochialism, sorting (the most talented people tend to go to top 10 programs in the U.S. so if you don't, it is assumed you must not be as talented), and genuine differences in instruction. In general, the more education you have and the higher your normal salary is, the fewer restrictions there are on immigration. This applies in the U.S. as well as in most other countries.
Even many foreign economics departments that generate a fair amount of research and publications will have a lot of professors with American PhDs. An increasing number of universities abroad in non-English speaking countries use English as the medium of instruction so language barriers are not what they used to be.
5.29.2006 1:31am
Tennessean (mail):
Some quick thoughts —

Although the facts certainly vary by field, etc., I still maintain that American potential professors have more to gain by the reduction of government barriers than those of other nations.

1. As noted by several others herein, the current American limitations are weak, ineffective, essentially meaningless, etc. (eeyn524, chrismn, MarkM). Although I'm far from an expert, I understand that the restrictions in some other Western countries (e.g., England, Australia) are much fiercer. I have no idea what sort of restrictions there are in non-Western countries, but I would bet that many of them are significantly more burdensome than in the United States.

2. That there are some countries who appear somewhat competitive with the United States as producers of potential professors does not mean that it is false that, in general, few outsiders have the preparation, resources, or credentials to make it into American universities:

* Clearly very few countries, if any, are remotely competitive in terms of producing potential professors at the same rate (per population measure, per undergaduate, etc.) with the United States. If there are 1, 2, or even 10 competitive countries, that does not mean that in a world with 100s of countries the market is competitive. Pre-application, the American graduate student is more favorably positioned than the average non-American graduate student to eventually end up with a faculty position.

Comparing most profs in Europe and many in Asia to American graduate students is not the relevant comparison — both because it improperly limits the scope (what about the rest of the Asian profs, South American profs, African profs, etc.) and because of apples-oranges. Likewise, comparing American and foreign students "in the exact same program, working in the exact same office" is not correct either, as most U.S. graduate students are (presumably) in U.S. programs while most foreign graduate students are not (and, of course, my position would be that foreigners face systematic, informal and formal hurdles gaining entrance in U.S. programs). Moreover, even for students in American programs, I would be surprised if the foreign students were not statistically significantly less successful at acquiring American positions (as measured as a ratio of number of positions offered to number of applicants seeking them, keeping other relevant variables even).

* Foreign potential professors do not succeed in acquiring American jobs at the same rate American professors do. Someone above noted that over 91% of the applicants for their recent openings were foreign; however, probably only 2 or 3 of my over 50 professors were foreign. Although both anecdotes are (by def.) anecdotal, I doubt they provide an incorrect suggestion. Post-application, the American graduate student is more favorably positioned than the non-American graduate student.

As I suggested earlier, if Mr. DeLong has his way, I'd expect the American graduate student to benefit. All of the informal American hurdles will remain (e.g., networking effects, search costs) and the admittedly weak formal hurdles will be removed. It will not become significantly easier to enter the United States. On the other hand, given the fact that many other countries do have more significant formal barriers, Americans will find entry to those countries easier. Seems to me that will produce at least a short-term bump in American talent exporting.

(I agree, coincidentally, with those who note that there are informal barriers and election reasons keeping some Americans out of foreign positions. However, as neither the American nor the foreign informal barriers are likely to change in the short run, and as it is my position that the American formal barriers are less potent relative to the total American barriers than in the foreign context, the existance of foreign informal barriers and/or reasons why American students may be less interested in foreign positions do not affect my conclusion.)
5.29.2006 2:46am
tefta (mail):
Tenure doesn't guarantee salary increases and tenured people may be eased out using that tactic, but I wouldn't say it's used very often unless there are serious problems in the department.
5.29.2006 12:23pm
jsm (mail):
Some readers may not appreciate that in the US -- particularly in Econ -- salaries are not fixed at all. An unproductive full professor with no outside offers may actually earn less than an untenured, star assistant professor at the same institution. Moreover, private universities do not have to reveal salary data. It is well known that at some econ departments the salary ratios of the best paid to the worst paid Full Professors could easily be 3 to 1.

In Europe by contrast, many/most universities have highly rigid pay scales with very little leeway to adjust pay for productivity or marketability after promotion.

When American Unis see people they want to hire from anywhere -- mostly, they do. So professors do feel the effects of foreign competition. Only a few schools in England and one or two on the continent even try something similar. (e.g. Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona has recruited good talent from all over the world).

As for tenure, the market solution is not to abolish it but to abolish mandatory tenure. A school should be free to offer a professor a lower paying job with tenure or a higher salary without tenure. A private market would make tenure just one of the perks to be bargained over -- like summer support or nice labs.

As it stands, many schools are partially eliminating tenure by taking lots of adjuncts and accepting many tenure track assistants and then firing 90% of them at tenure time.

Again, the contrast is to many countries' systems where promotion isn't guaranteed but tenure/freedom from being fired immediately comes with the lowest instructor's position.
5.29.2006 12:28pm