Reviews | Want to rebuild manufacturing? Have a conversation about immigration.

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It’s been somewhat surprising to see some truly bipartisan bills pass in recent days, including the Chips and Science Act, which will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild America’s manufacturing base to better compete with China. A number of Republicans have cast aside old orthodoxies to engage in industrial policy in the service of the long-term national interest.

But if members of both parties will now work together to revitalize American industry, it may require breaking a much tougher divide between the parties: the one over immigration.

The chip bill will invest $52.7 billion in strengthening the semiconductor industry, which is increasingly essential to technological progress and the human well-being it can bring. It would invest more than $250 billion in scientific and technological research and development.

But now, Punchbowl News reports that a group of tech companies, including Intel and AMD, have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to take the next step in the process: bringing in more high-tech immigrant workers.

In the spirit of this new bipartisan will to rebuild, including in struggling areas of the industrial heartland, can we also have a conversation about immigration reform? The answer is probably no.

In their letter, the tech companies warn that in the semiconductor industry, “we face an immediate shortage of skilled workers.” They urged the promotion of more STEM education, but said that in the short term they are hampered by “the inability to retain talented foreign-born individuals who obtain master’s and doctoral degrees in relevant STEM fields at U.S. higher education institutions.

Tech companies are calling for various reforms to make it easier for immigrants trained in STEM fields to work in the United States. This is necessary, they say, to complete the chip bill’s mission of getting ahead of “competitors” (i.e. China) investing in STEM workers themselves.

Which highlights some interesting tensions in this debate.

On the one hand, by moving toward industrial policies, Republicans are breaking away from their professed devotion to things like “free” markets and “limited” government, which Republicans favor when serving the interests of big business. and the rich.

But Republicans are unlikely to set aside their rigid ideological opposition to reforming our immigration system to facilitate more immigration in the national interest. Yet it could also be key to rebuilding the manufacturing base.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has done extensive analyzes of our technology policies, says chip companies are generally right to view these immigration reforms as critical to the success of this industrial policy.

“The success of this relocation effort is entirely dependent on local and foreign-born workers being available and well-trained,” Muro told us.

Muro said it should be difficult — in theory at least — for Republicans to oppose such changes on the grounds that only Americans should be doing this work without being willing to invest in building a workforce. American work to do so.

“There is a critical need to build this pipeline at the national level,” Muro said. “But in the meantime, we will have to stabilize by importing workers who want to be here.” And if Republicans don’t agree to such immigration changes, “it could undermine the relocation that they and others want to see happen.”

In another irony, Muro noted that allowing semiconductor production to ramp up rapidly could “also create tens of thousands of tech jobs for American workers to fill,” including in red states such as Texas and Ohio, which are likely to become home to new semiconductors. plants.

If the parties can reach an agreement focused on educated immigrant workers, it could open the door to a new discussion on immigration more generally.

Unfortunately, our debate on immigration has essentially been frozen for the entire era of Donald Trump. It’s not that we haven’t talked about immigration; we just stopped talking about what the future of immigration policy should look like, instead arguing about Trump’s border wall, family separation policies, and any “caravan” that is supposed to invade the United States.

You used to hear Republicans say they favor legal But no illegal immigration, but we don’t hear as much about it anymore. While in 2016 Trump was to the right of much of his party on immigration, most Republicans joined his position.

That Republicans will agree with Democrats on a reform that allows an increase in legal immigration – even with draconian enforcement measures – now seems extremely unlikely.

Some heavily Republican rural areas could benefit from new residents, which means new workers and consumers. Some struggling rural towns seek immigrants to support declining populations and stagnant economies. But you rarely hear Republicans talk about the positive effects of immigration on the US economy, including these stagnant areas.

To be clear, Democrats have committed their own serious immigration offenses. President Biden has kept too many of Trump’s border policies in place and neglected to honor commitments to refugees and asylum seekers, apparently also wanting to avoid difficult debates on this issue.

But now that the parties are friends on rebuilding the industrial heartland, can’t we have a debate about how immigration could at least fit into that?


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