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The Congress is now considering an arcane proposal (to exempt certain foreign graduate students from the numerical limits in H-1B work-visa program) that exemplifies much of what’s wrong with our immigration system:

Dishonesty. The program has a limit of 65,000 visas per year except that the cap is “pierceable,” in that any foreign worker indentured to a university or the government isn’t counted toward the cap, and the immigration service won’t say how many visas were issued outside the cap. The provision now under consideration would expand the dishonesty by exempting even more visas from the “cap.”

Secrecy. Members of Congress know that very vocal elements of the public hate this kind of thing, and have succeeded in killing it before. So, instead of having a debate and vote on the merits, Ted Kennedy and Saxby Chambliss are trying to sneak it into the omnibus spending bill that Congress has to pass to keep the government open.

Subsidy. Some of the biggest boosters of this measure are universities, for whose graduate departments it would represent a significant financial windfall. One of the main reason that few American students pursue PhDs in many technical fields is that graduate study often serves no useful purpose and in fact can result in a big loss in lifetime earnings. But foreigners would get paid in a different coin — access to the U.S. — and so are willing to fill redundant graduate programs that otherwise, without this federal subsidy, might be discontinued. And the subsidy continues, because universities not only get more paying graduate students but they are then able to use these students to get more federal research grants.

I know that legislating is like sausage-making, but there’s sausage and then there’s sausage. I like salami; immigration-policy shenanigans are liverwurst.



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