When you think of a “developing country,” what type of nation comes to mind? Any number of Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian countries, probably. What makes them “developing”? Any number of socio-economic factors, including poor infrastructure, political corruption, conflict, ethnoreligious tension, poverty, high unemployment, and famine—to name a few. A “developed nation” has largely rid itself of these poor indicators.
Do we really want these “developing nations” ever to become developed? If so, then why does the United States—and the West more broadly—encourage and pursue policies that lead to “brain drain” from poorer, developing countries? Why do we continue to take the best people of those nations?
Moreover, why do we continue to import cheap foreign labor from developing nations when more and more jobs in America are becoming automated?
The Advent of A.I. and Automation
As developed countries continue to advance their economies and technology at a faster rate than developing countries, the job market is changing as well. This is where artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation kick in.
In 10 years, cashiers will go the way of elevator operators. Eventually, most fast-food restaurants will be entirely automated with nobody at the front counter taking orders and no drive-through operators. Even the cooks will be gone. That’s going to be true of a great many blue-collar professions: factory labor, farming, motor vehicle operators, construction workers, inventory managers, and stock workers—you know all those cheap labor jobs that we “need all those immigrants to do because Americans just won’t do them”? Well, it turns out someone, or rather something, will do them.
Think about it: robots don’t need a salary, a lunch break, sick days, or two-weeks vacation. Robots don’t get tired; they don’t get sexually harassed or file lawsuits; they don’t need maternity or paternity leave. There are no cultural or linguistic barriers because all robots understand is binary code. All they need is periodic maintenance that will become cheaper as the technology becomes more readily available. So, essentially, they are the best employees an employer could ask for.
But we’ll still need highly educated white collar foreign labor to come in on H1B visas, right? Wrong. If you thought A.I. was only coming to take blue-collar jobs, think again. Have you met IBM’s Watson? Yes, technology like this will replace a plethora of highly skilled white-collar professions, too, including accountants, insurance underwriters and claims representatives, bank tellers and representatives, financial analysts, and even journalists (this is why writing isn’t my only job).
Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance In Japan has replaced 34 of its employees with IBM’s Watson. The firm claims that laying off the employees will increase productivity by 30 percent and see a return on its investment in less than two years. Fukoku also claims the move will help the company save 140 million yen (around $1.25 million) a year.
A New Economy Need a New Immigration Policy
Here’s the reality: As AI, robotics, and automation become more common, the job market will become more streamlined, specialized, specific, and narrow. This rapid replacement of huge chunks of the labor market is not in correlation with the fertility rates and immigration policies we currently have in place. If we are going to struggle helping the 297 million U.S. citizens (2016 numbers) find work in this new era of AI, why would we continue to bring in more people to not work? We need an immigration policy that reflects our job market—and that is definitely not what we have with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act still in place.
The fact is, we don’t need more immigrants, we need fewer. The RAISE Act by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) is a good start. However, it should not be where our restrictions stop. The bill would move our immigration policy to a more merit-based system, cutting green cards by 50 percent and capping the number of refugees allowed into the country to 50,000 a year. But even those restrictions won’t be enough to keep pace with the rate of automation replacing jobs.
America needs a smaller population to reflect these rapidly changing technological changes to our workforce. The first step would be drastically to reduce the number of people we allow to enter the country. In turn, having a streamlined, specialized job market with a much smaller population would result in higher wages, a higher standard of living, and a smaller wage disparity.
Encourage Developing Nations to Actually Develop
If we truly want to help people in the global south better their lives, encouraging their populations to come to developed nations like the United States only to be cast out of the job market within a decade is not a truly generous or compassionate policy. We should encourage them and their nations to develop, thus giving them employment and work in their own country and bettering the lives of their people.
In many developing nations, AI and automation haven’t taken root and many jobs that no longer exist (or will soon cease to exist) in developed nations will still be available in the coming decades there. We will only be doing potential immigrants a disservice by inviting them here under the entirely emotional premise that we are a “nation of immigrants.” Having a lax policy of immigration is no longer a viable option for the United States and other developed nations as our job market continues to tighten.
We can make the best of this situation for the workforce in the 21st century, but it cannot be with a 20th-century immigration policy.
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