Gordon on Temporary Labor Migration in NY Times, and J Visas

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8 Responses

  1. PrometheeFeu says:

    “Many (though not all) J visas used for academic purposes include a clause that requires the holder to return to her or his “home” country for two years after the completion of the visit, a condition that is often very difficult to get around. This does not, in principle, seem like an unreasonable requirement to me, and sometimes it may even be desirable.”

    You find “reasonable” and possibly even “desirable” to kick people out of the country and tell them not come back for a full 2 years largely cutting them off from any economic opportunities and friends? Do you want to explain what is reasonable or desirable about that?

  2. Matthew Lister says:

    Well, I assume that people getting a J visa for education or research are adults who can make decisions with their eyes open, and decide whether to take the visa, given the requirements. In general, I think that treating adults like adults, including having them honor their agreements even when they don’t want to, is a good idea. My experience, from talking to several people who have taken these visas and been annoyed by the return requirement, is that they didn’t think about it quite as clearly as they should have. But so what? This wasn’t a surprise. What is sometimes objectionable is when schools, for their own reasons, suggest using these visas to students rather than normal student visas, without making as clear as they might the consequences. But even then, these are people we should normally expect to be able to evaluate choices and live with them. The cases where I think the return residency requirement can be desirable include cases where the foreign study is paid for by the “home” country, and so that country hopes to get some benefit from it, or similar cases where the exchange or study is sponsored by the US but with the goal of building skills or capacity in the home country.

    In many cases, too, it’s false that people who must return to their home countries are “largely cut off from any economic opportunities”. Many of these visas go to people who will have fine economic opportunities in their home countries. That they won’t have exactly the opportunities they want is no injustice at all, especially since they are still better off then they would be without the visa.

    Now, if I were designing visa programs I would be more liberal than what we have, as a system now. But my question here isn’t whether this is the best system, but whether it’s an unjust one or an unreasonable one. In the case of people like that discussed in the op-ed by professor Gordon there’s good reason to think the system is unjust and unreasonable. In the case of people on a J-1 for research or study, I think that case is much harder to make unless you think that immigration restrictions are inherently unjust or else you think that non US citizens are not adults capable of understanding an agreement. Neither of those seem plausible to me.

  3. PrometheeFeu says:

    “In the case of people on a J-1 for research or study, I think that case is much harder to make unless you think that immigration restrictions are inherently unjust or else you think that non US citizens are not adults capable of understanding an agreement. Neither of those seem plausible to me.”

    Actually, I do think that laws which say that some people are not allowed to be in the country for no particular reason other than their nationality are particularly unjust. I just don’t see a case for arbitrarily kicking out productive members of society.

  4. Matthew Lister says:

    “I do think that laws which say that some people are not allowed to be in the country for no particular reason other than their nationality are particularly unjust.”

    Except that in this case, the people are not kept out “because of their nationality” but because they agreed to these terms when they took the visa. (In most of these cases, the visa came with funding, either from the U.S. Gov’t or their home Gov’t.)

    “I just don’t see a case for arbitrarily kicking out productive members of society.”

    Except that this isn’t arbitrary. You might thing the given reasons for the system in general are not persuasive, and you might think that a particular person did not, for some reason, understand the terms well enough, but that doesn’t make the system arbitrary.

  5. PrometheeFeu says:

    Except that in this case, the people are not kept out “because of their nationality” but because they agreed to these terms when they took the visa. (In most of these cases, the visa came with funding, either from the U.S. Gov’t or their home Gov’t.)

    The funding is only a part of the deal. For many of these people, the important part of the deal is being allowed to come into the country. Consider the following choice:
    1) I will not allow you to take this job for which you were hired and if you try to take it anyways, I will use violence in order to stop you from working and make you leave the city in which the job is located.
    2) I will allow you to take this job for which you were hired, and I will even give you or your employer some money, but after X years, you have to leave the city where the job is located and I will if necessary use violence to make you leave and keep you out.

    The only conditions under which this could be considered just would be if the person giving you that choice had just ownership of the area from which they deny you entry. Given that the government is not owner of the land, it is a profoundly unjust and illegitimate offer to make and the bargain is void because it interfered unjustly with your right to make a contract with another private party and to travel to a place in which you have committed no crime.

    “Except that this isn’t arbitrary. You might thing the given reasons for the system in general are not persuasive, and you might think that a particular person did not, for some reason, understand the terms well enough, but that doesn’t make the system arbitrary.”

    What makes it arbitrary is that only people who happen to be born in another country are ever offered such an unjust bargain. People who happen to be born in the US are not threatened with violence if they try to enter the US and work there.

  6. Matthew Lister says:

    I think your descriptions of the situation are, well, a bit fanciful, and not at all like that faced by J-1 visa holders who are student or researchers. (It’s worth noting that there are a number of exceptions to the return residence policy for cases where it would be truly onerous as opposed to merely inconvenient.) The “arbitrary” part depends on an argument that immigration regulation at all is unjust. Some people hold that view, even some smart ones, but the arguments for it are, I think, not convincing. I don’t think that it’s worth trying to go into them in a blog comment, but at least it should be noted that those arguments are, to say the least, highly contentious. Certainly it’s a bad strategy to rely on them, as they won’t be granted by most of your opponents (including me.) But, without these arguments, or some highly fanciful re-descriptions, your first bit doesn’t go through, either.

    (Imagine if Rhodes Scholarships came with a 2-year return residence requirement. That’s not so implausible, given the original purpose of the Rhodes. After two years, the holder could apply again for British visas just like anyone else. No one was required to apply for a Rhodes, and that wasn’t the only way someone could study at Oxford who wasn’t British. Would you really think it plausible that those who took the Rhodes under that condition were treated in a grossly unjust way? Even people from, say, the US, Canada, and Australia? I have to say that I’d find that claim extremely implausible, but if so, then there’s also nothing unjust with the J visa requirement in itself, though it may, of course, be administered in bad ways, like all programs, and may be a bad way to achieve its goals, something I have no firm opinion on.)

  7. PrometheeFeu says:

    “I think your descriptions of the situation are, well, a bit fanciful, and not at all like that faced by J-1 visa holders who are student or researchers.”

    It is true that I am not familiar with J-1 visas specifically. I am however familiar with more generic student visas (I do not recall the specific designation) because I came to the USA on a student visa. I also have family members who originally came on a student visa, later came back to visit on a tourist visa and were denied entry into the United States based on violating an unofficial requirement of having a return ticket on hand. (I verified that with an immigration officer who confirmed that while it is “frowned upon” it is by no means a requirement) They spent 3-4 hours being interrogated, were lied to by the immigration officer and were then handcuffed, changed into one of those delightful orange jumpsuit and locked up overnight. The next morning, they were handcuffed and escorted to a plane to send them back home. During that time, they were held with very limited access to communication. All of this was done under the very obvious threat of violence should they not comply and cooperate. I don’t think there is anything fanciful about my description. Quite to the contrary, I am simply describing the situation as it physically is without any of the euphemisms which are used for very real actions taken against very real people. The fact that the people taking the actions in question wear a particular uniform and that their actions are prescribed on a piece of paper does not fundamentally change the nature of their actions and render them just.

    “Would you really think it plausible that those who took the Rhodes under that condition were treated in a grossly unjust way?”

    No, I would not because the Rhodes Scholarship is not a requirement for entering in the United Kingdom and nobody is prevented from entering the UK by the Rhodes Trust. Furthermore, the Rhodes Trust is simply dispensing its own money as it sees fit. I would not find anything particularly outrageous with a private entity handing out money in an unjust manner. The immigration system however has the explicit purpose of limiting the freedom of travel and uses force to do so. Some people may not be allowed by the immigration system to enter work or study in the US unless they accept the conditions of a J visa. That is particularly unjust because it takes a fundamental freedom and limits it.

  8. Matthew Lister says:

    I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your family member. I agree that that sort of treatment is unreasonable. It has nothing in particular to do with student visas, though, or with J-1 visa return residency requirements. All countries exercise control of their borders and seek to exclude those who they do not think will comply with immigration regulations. This control can be done, of course, more or less reasonably. It’s clear that the US (among others) often enough does this unreasonably. (Customs and Border Patrol Agents are often quite unreasonable with return US citizens, too. A good friend of mine was once subject to a lengthy questioning while returning from Egypt for a vacation with his family- a perfectly typical tourist sort of thing. His wife didn’t see what happened to him and was very worried. This sort of stuff is crazy, and should be stopped and those who do it punished, but it’s really a distinct issue from the one I’m interested in.) Nearly all countries seek to exclude those whom they think have “immigrant intent” but don’t have an immigrant visa. This often gives people a lot of discretion who probably should not have it. That’s what caused your family member trouble, not any of the issues I was interested here. Not being clear on what is at issue will only lead to confusion, however, so it’s important to get the points straight.

    Finally, I think you missed the point of comparison with the Rhodes scholarship. I can only suggest re-reading the example, as I don’t think I can make it clearer. And, you again seem to suggest that it’s a “fundamental freedom” to be able to live and study wherever one wants. I don’t think that’s plausible, though of course others disagree. (I might recommend Brian Barry’s contribution to the volume _Free Movement_, where he shows quite clearly and quickly how many of the common arguments depend on false analogies or other mistakes.)