The Case for Just-in-Time Immigration

Why America needs a personnel system built for the 21st century.

It is often said that government could learn a thing or two from the private sector, but what if the very same management innovations that powered the recent surge in global productivity could be leveraged to solve America's immigration problem? It sounds far-fetched, but "just-in-time" production strategy -- which matches supply and demand for manufacturing components, thereby reducing wasteful imbalances -- is crying out to be applied to immigration policy. We have the technology and the data to do it -- all we need is the will.

Despite persistent unemployment problems, the United States faces significant labor shortages, particularly in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Large employers like Siemens, Apple, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, for example, have struggled to fill thousands of job openings because of the lack of suitable candidates. Meanwhile, current immigration policies permit too few skilled worker visas and dictate long waiting periods for skilled H-1B visa holders to obtain green cards. Current green card quotas, moreover, are woefully insufficient to meet labor demands in many sectors. Fortunately, there's an easy fix for this mismatch between supply and demand for human capital: dynamic "just-in-time" labor and immigration policies that let in immigrants as they are needed.

American success in the postwar period was built on the free flow of trade and capital -- and human capital was an essential part of the story. From 1970 onward, roughly 10 million college-educated women chose to work professionally instead of becoming full-time wives and mothers. Between 1970 and 1990, 17 million immigrants came to the United States, and made profound contributions to construction, agriculture, manufacturing, technology, and the service sector. They also changed the lives of a generation of working mothers. The availability of legal, reasonably priced childcare allowed women to manage their familial obligations while competing in the global work force. The advent of the dual-income family, in turn, provided a formidable boost to our consumption-driven economy for the next four decades.

Today, human capital flows are seriously obstructed by political gridlock in Washington. At the same time, the Baby Boomer generation is graying, retiring, and increasingly relying on the social welfare programs to which it contributed -- but not enough given the longer life expectancy of its members. In a blink of an eye, it seems, the Boomers have gone from the locomotive to the caboose.

The key to solving this demographic challenge is a sustained and selective immigration policy. Based on data collected by the PEW Research Center and the Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States needs roughly 50 million new immigrants over the next 20 years in order to meet our demographic and balance-sheet demands. That's about 2.5 million immigrants per year, compared to the roughly 2 million (one million legally and one million, give or take, illegally) who have arrived in the United States every year for the last two decades. It's not much of an increase -- 500,000 people per year -- but it's enough to make a positive difference in our fiscal deficits, consumption, savings, and investment needs, and to take care of the household and other employment demands of an aging population.

To meet these needs, the United States should adopt four policies that balance supply and demand for human capital -- bringing the U.S. immigration system more in line with just-in-time principles. First, the government should make it easier for foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges and graduate schools to obtain work visas, as Mayor Bloomberg and others have suggested. The United States trained them, so it should have the option of keeping them.

Second, the government should stop taxing at the water's edge. Switzerland, Britain, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and many other countries have opened their economies to wealthy foreigners who as resident aliens have brought their savings, investment, and consumption strength. These countries attract wealthy foreigners by taxing only what residents spend or produce within their borders, or some other fixed amount, not their global income and savings, as the United States does. Many Americans see such policies as politically incorrect -- and they may be -- but they're also smart and have worked well for the countries that have adopted them.

Third, the United States should retain and tax illegal immigrants. Today, there are roughly 10 million illegal immigrants in the country, the vast majority of whom are working productively. They should be given visas and brought into the tax-paying apparatus immediately. It is fiscally prudent and humane to do so.

Finally, the United States should increase the availability of infant and elder-care visas. The responsibility for caring for America's youth and elderly populations falls disproportionately on women. Unless America opens immigration to child and nursing care practitioners, we will see many of the gains achieved by women and dual income families eroded by the very real, unfairly-distributed, and now rapidly increasing family demands on working women's time.

We have already begun to see a leveling off and marginal decrease in the higher value-added strata of middles class professional women, forced to leave the labor force for lack of home management support. That could be the most destructive trend of all. We have allowed immigrants to fill in seasonal employment demands for farming; we should do the same for child and elder care needs. Three-year renewable work permits would solve this problem.

Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker has suggested a workable market-based solution, which would charge, say, a $50,000 fee to approve a legal work immigrant visa. This fee could take the form of a loan for existing lower income illegal immigrants, who could pay it off over a number of years, thereby avoiding the perceived unfair windfall created by blanket amnesty. This market-based solution could also work well in leveling off the playing field and increasing tax revenue. Added to just-in-time dynamic visa and temporary worker programs, this fee would bring a win-win solution to our labor imbalance and fiscal problems.

Just-in-time can do for immigration what it has done for inventory management: increase productivity and reduce human adversity. Those countries who tackle the labor mobility challenge with dynamic, insightful policies will get first mover advantage -- a clear head start that will enhance global competitiveness. It's time for just-in-time.

David McNew/Getty Images


How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria's Revolution

The shadowy Islamist group that was all but destroyed in the 1980s is ruining the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.

No one in Syria expected the anti-regime uprising to last this long or be this deadly, but after around 70,000 dead, 1 million refugees, and two years of unrest, there is still no end in sight. While President Bashar al-Assad's brutal response is mostly to blame, the opposition's chronic failure to form a viable front against the regime has also allowed the conflict to drag on. And there's one anti-Assad group that is largely responsible for this dismal state of affairs: Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.

Throughout the Syrian uprising, I have had discussions with opposition figures, activists, and foreign diplomats about how the Brotherhood has built influence within the emerging opposition forces. It has been a dizzying rise for the Islamist movement. It was massacred out of existence in the 1980s after the Baathist regime put down a Brotherhood-led uprising in Hama. Since then, membership in the Brotherhood has been an offense punishable by death in Syria, and the group saw its presence on the ground wither to almost nothing. But since the uprising erupted on March 15, 2011, the Brotherhood has moved adroitly to seize the reins of power of the opposition's political and military factions.

According to a figure present at the first conference to organize Syria's political opposition, held in Antalya, Turkey, in May 2011, the Brotherhood was initially hesitant to join an anti-Assad political body. The group had officially suspended its opposition to the Baathist regime in the wake of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in 2009, and it pulled out of an alliance with Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president who defected in 2005.

The Brotherhood nonetheless sent members to participate in the conference, including Molhem Droubi, who became a member of the conference's executive bureau. Meanwhile, it took steps to form fighting groups inside Syria, recruiting potential fighters and calling on its relatively meager contacts on the ground in Homs, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo.

As the idea of a unified opposition group to lead the popular revolt gained momentum, the Brotherhood became more involved. A month after the meeting in Antalya, it organized a conference in Brussels, attended by 200 people, mostly Islamists -- one of the first obvious fractures in the unity of the opposition. The Brotherhood subsequently organized several conferences that formed opposition groups to serve as fronts for the movement, allowing it to beef up its presence in political bodies.

After the conference in Brussels, at least three groups were formed "to support the Syrian revolution." The organizations continued to hatch, and a few months after the first conference they were present in opposition bodies that later formed the core of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group that ostensibly represented all anti-Assad forces. The council set aside seats for both the Brotherhood and members of the Damascus Declaration, a group of Syrian reformists established in 2005 -- but the Brotherhood already had a significant presence within the Damascus Declaration group.

That appears to be a common pattern. According to members of the Syrian National Coalition who were integral to the early opposition meetings, as well as activists close to the Brotherhood, groups that have served as fronts for the Brotherhood include: the National Union of Free Syria Students, led by Hassan Darwish; the Levant Ulema League; the Independent Islamic Democratic Current, led by Ghassan Najjar; the Syrian Ulema League, led by Mohammed Farouq Battal; the Civil Society Organizations' Union, a bloc of 40 Brotherhood-affiliated groups; the Syrian Arab Tribal Council, led by Salem Al Moslet and Abdulilah Mulhim; the Revolution Council for Aleppo and Its Countryside, led by Ahmed Ramadan; the Body for Protection of Civilians, led by Natheer Hakim; the National Work Front, led by Ramadan and Obeida Nahas; the Kurdish Work Front, led by Hussain Abdulhadi; the Syrian Revolution Facebook page, which decides the names for Friday's protests; the Hama Revolution Gathering; the National Coalition for Civilian Protection, led by Haitham Rahma; and the Syrian Society for Humanitarian Relief, founded by Hamdi Othman.

Other groups that represent outlets for the Brotherhood but are not themselves represented in political bodies include the Arab Orient Center for Strategic and Civilization Studies, headed by Brotherhood spokesman Zoheir Salem, and the Syrian Human Rights Committee, led by Brotherhood representative and the opposition's ambassador to Britain Walid Saffour. A group representing women and children is also led by a daughter of Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, the deputy leader of Syria's Brotherhood.

Additionally, some Brotherhood-affiliated figures denied they were part of the group and joined the SNC as "independents." These include Nahas, the London-based director of the Levant Center; Louay Safi, a Syrian-American fellow at Georgetown University and former chairman of the Syrian American Council (SAC); and Najib Ghadbian, a political science professor who also works at the SAC.

The Brotherhood's political domination became more pronounced in late September 2011, when opposition figures and forces met in two separate hotels in Turkey to form a political body representing all opposition forces. In an early sign of its organizational skill, the Brotherhood divided itself into two groups, one in each hotel, to influence both sides of how the body was to be shaped: The Brotherhood's leader, Riad al-Shaqfa, was in one hotel while his deputies, Tayfour and Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, were in the other. Droubi shuttled back and forth. The strategy paid off: A list of agreed-upon members was altered in one of the hotels, and more Brotherhood members and Brotherhood-affiliated groups were added before the creation of the SNC was announced on Oct. 2.

By the winter of 2011, the Brotherhood had greatly expanded its influence. It was not only strong in the SNC -- it had won supporters within the ranks of military defectors and the Local Coordination Committees inside Syria. Before the September conference, around 100 young activists traveled to Turkey, where the Brotherhood gave them media training and provided them with equipment. When the trainees returned to Syria, according to one of the organizers of the opposition meetings, they formed coordinating committees in dozens of small towns and cities to support the movement.

Brotherhood members also met with early defectors from the regime's army. As one military defector told me, the Brotherhood asked for their loyalty, and in return, the group promised to pressure Turkey to create a buffer zone along its border with Syria. The effort was unsuccessful, but the Brotherhood later won the loyalty of Col. Riad al-Asaad, who formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), replacing the secular-leaning Free Officers Movement.

After the formation of the FSA, new brigades began to take religious names, instead of names of national figures or areas. The Brotherhood's influence within the FSA was known to military defectors at the time -- that was why the first Druze officer to defect from the army, Lt. Khaldoun Sami Zaineddin, took the unusual step of joining the Free Officers Movement in October 2011, rather than the FSA.

The Brotherhood continued to pour time and resources into building its influence within the rebel forces. The fighting factions backed by the movement include the Tawhid Brigade, supported by Brotherhood leaders in Aleppo, mainly Bayanouni and Ramadan; some elements in the powerful Farouq Brigades; the Body for Protection of Civilians, considered the military wing of the Brotherhood, led by Hakim; and Ansar al-Islam, based in Damascus and the surrounding countryside. The Brotherhood has brigades across the country whose names typically include the word "shield," such as the Euphrates Shield, the Capital Shield, and the Aqsa Mosque Shield. It also coordinates in some areas with hard-line groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham, according to military defectors.

Most importantly, the Brotherhood has successfully opposed attempts to outline how the transitional period will be managed -- an ambiguity the group no doubt hopes it will be able to exploit to seize a leadership role after Assad's fall. In June 2012, a major meeting was organized in Istanbul by the Arab League to restructure the SNC, and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the opposition that the council must subject itself to an independent committee that would lay out internal reforms if it hoped to win greater American support. The committee met in Cairo in July 2011 and presented draft documents that outlined the transitional period, laying out the duties of opposition forces and detailing the fate of armed factions. They also included an important article criminalizing the use of political money to buy loyalty.

The documents, which were eventually signed by the bulk of opposition forces, dealt a heavy blow to the Brotherhood's monopoly on power. The Islamist group moved quickly to prevent any restrictions on its ability to shape the post-Assad political order. According to members who attended the meeting, the SNC did not sanction a follow-up committee to ensure the documents were incorporated into the opposition's vision, despite pressure from outside countries. The Brotherhood dealt a final blow to the plan when it succeeded in having the plan excluded from the founding statements of the Syrian National Coalition, established in Doha in November 2012.

The Brotherhood additionally benefited from its influence in Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt. Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned satellite behemoth, has polished the image of anti-regime Islamists in its coverage. The Brotherhood also carefully selected leaders who can be easily controlled or who have minimal leadership skills. According to a member of the opposition coalition, it supported the appointment of the Syrian National Coalition's current leader, Moaz al-Khatib, because it thought he could be easily steered as he was a "good-hearted mosque preacher."

Khatib has proved that the Brotherhood underestimated him by unshackling himself from its control, unilaterally announcing a brave initiative for dialogue with the regime. For his defiance, he has since been subject to fierce attacks from the Brotherhood and its allies: The SNC criticized Khatib for "taking personal decisions," while the Brotherhood itself rejected the initiative as "undisciplined and inadequate."

The Muslim Brotherhood knows it has a long way to go before taking control of Syria. But its power grabs have already played a major role in perpetuating the current crisis, and they bode ill for its role in the new Syria.