America's blocked labor policies

A little known fact about the H-1B work visa program - the special visa used by most foreign technology workers who come to work in the United States - is that fashion models must compete for the same category of visa, a fact about which The Economist reminded me in its June 21st article "Beauty and the Geek." This was less of a problem when the visa program was more generous and the visa allotment didn't run out within hours of the start deadline.

A little known fact about the H-1B work visa program - the special visa used by most foreign technology workers who come to work in the United States - is that fashion models must compete for the same category of visa, a fact about which The Economist reminded me in its June 21st article "Beauty and the Geek." This was less of a problem when the visa program was more generous and the visa allotment didn't run out within hours of the start deadline. Ever since the cap was lowered in 2004 and the mad rush for the 65,000 visas allotted per year began, however, models have had a hard time coming to the United States to do fashion shoots...

...well, models who just look good in photographs and don't regularly appear on the cover of Vogue, as apparently, supermodels qualify for another category of visa due to their "extraordinary ability." What's truly humorous about the situation is how a New York congressman, citing the interests of the New York fashion industry, proposed to deal with the problem.

No, he is not proposing that we loosen the restriction on the number of technology workers allowed into this country, a group of people who can be considered vastly more critical to this nation's economy than fashion models. We need to make a new visa category for fashion models, so they aren't forced to compete for slots with computer geeks going to work in Silicon Valley.

A comment by Steve King, a congressman representing Iowa, merely added to the silliness, as he called the move the "Ugly American Act" because it implied that there aren't enough Americans who can fill the role of fashion models. Even beautiful people, apparently, need to be protected from those dangerous job-stealing foreigners.

Fareed Zakaria, in a new book I mean to buy as soon as I have time to read it, says that America's problem isn't that its economy is faltering, but that we have a political system so incapable of dealing with real problems that it threatens our ability to react properly to the rapid growth of the developing world. Too many politicians are pandering to constituencies who think modern economies are like massive water tanks, and all the money will stay inside if only we shut closed the pipes leading into it.

Sorry, that's not how things work in a global market. America's economy is likely to grow for as long as it wants to grow, as we have the best universities in the world, the biggest supply of people who regularly invest in startups, and a culture that is friendly towards entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, that isn't enough.  American economic growth also needs the best minds in the worlds working on American shores to create the companies that will employ Americans in the future. When we tell them to stay in their home countries, they keep those good ideas with them, to the benefit of the countries in which they are staying.

The rest of the world doesn't need us to grow (though they would like us to buy their products, though don't exaggerate that "need;" the rest of the world is growing fast enough to serve as a decent market in its own right, making America less of the critical consumer that it was 20 years ago). If we choose the ostrich path to safety against the rigors of global capitalism, our children will wonder why a country that 20 years ago was the center of economic activity saw so many opportunities shift to foreign shores.

Right now, we are the single most popular destination for the best and brightest of the world. That doesn't mean that there aren't bright people in the US. It just means that it is better to pull from a pool of 6 billion than be forced to contend with whoever was lucky enough to be accidentally born in our country. It's the reason that large countries win more gold medals per capita in Olympic games than smaller countries. If you have a bigger pool of people with great abilities from which to draw, you have a better chance of winning in global competitions.

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