By Mary-Frances Winters
In June 2012, journalist and commentator, Fareed Zakaria, critiqued immigration systems in Japan Europe, Canada, and the US for a CNN TV special: “Global Lessons: The GPS Roadmap for Making Immigration Work”.
His basic conclusion is that immigration policies are not working well in many parts of the world for a variety of reasons. From Japan who has had strict anti-immigration policies to the European Union which is trying a more open approach within Europe, to the US, whose system is admittedly broken, immigration issues are complex and controversial.
Opening a country’s borders to people from “foreign lands” has been a controversial issue for centuries but as globalization, due largely to technological advances, has made it much easier to be borderless, the issue is front and center. Additionally Japan and most European countries are facing population shortages that will have dire consequences for future labor needs.
In the United States, Europe and Japan anti-immigration sentiment is strong. Japan has very strict immigration laws which essentially closed its doors to any outsiders. Now, however, facing severe labor shortages, they are finding a need to rethink their policies. The European Union, while encouraging migration within its member countries, has not been so open to immigrants from outside its borders. Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have all said that multiculturalism in their countries is a failure.
Zakaria feels that Canada has gotten it most right because it is a sparsely populated country in dire need of labor. Their point system allows immigrants into the country, based on their education, language proficiency and job skills. Compared to the US, in Canada, almost two-thirds of permanent visas in 2011 were given on the basis on Canada’s economic needs versus family reasons which is the opposite for the US where only 13% of green cards went to economic reasons and 66% were for family reasons.
The United States has the highest percentage (13%) of foreign born living here since 1920 and is still the most preferred country for immigrants. While still a divisive issue, there appears to be a great deal of anti-immigration attitudes. According to a Pew survey 63% of those surveyed approved of President Obama’s policy to allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country and apply for work permits (part of the Dream Act).
However, there are still many unanswered questions about immigration reform in the US and much partisan gridlock. The President has promised to make this one of his key issues during his second term. Many who want stricter immigration policies fear that immigrants will take jobs from Americans, will increase crime rates and in general deteriorate the standard of living. Supporters point to our history being founded on immigrants and the vast contributions to our growth and prosperity that can be attributed to the “foreign born”.
Implications and Recommendations for D&I Practitioners:
1. Global immigration issues are a moving target. It is important that you stay current understanding how attitudes, laws and your company’s polices are changing.
2. Do immigrants who may be employed at your company feel valued, respected and included? How much anti-immigration sentiment is there among your workforce? It is important that you have a pulse on worker attitudes.
3. Are you knowledgeable of the various US state laws as well as those in the countries where you are doing business?
4. As the Department of Homeland Security in the US continues to conduct “raids” to determine if employers are in compliance with employment-eligibility verification requirements, it is important for you to have a strong partnership with talent acquisition and employee relations to ensure that diversity and inclusion considerations are being taken into account.
Dr. Mary-Frances Winters is a leading diversity and inclusion practitioner and thought leader. She is the founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., a 28 year old diversity and inclusion firm specializing in D&I assessment, education and strategic planning. Dr. Winters is the author of three books: Only Wet Babies Like Change: Workplace Wisdom for Baby Boomers; Inclusion Starts with I and CEOs Who Get It.