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Reviews | GOP immigration paranoia harms national security

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Congress unanimously passed the Soviet Scientists Immigration Act of 1992, which eased the way for highly qualified scientists and engineers from some former Soviet bloc countries to come in the USA. The message was clear: the best and brightest in the world want to live in open societies, not under dictatorship. The Cold War taught us that exploiting the brain drain is a smart and fair strategy. But now some members of the GOP have forgotten that lesson.

Thirty years later, as the West confronts aggressive dictatorships based in Moscow and Beijing, the United States risks wasting its greatest opportunity since the Cold War to bolster our competitiveness at the expense of our adversaries. Why? Because some members of the Republican Party are more determined to thwart any action on immigration than they are to compete with Russia and China.

As for Russia, Congress dropped the ball last month when it passed the $40 billion extra funding bill to help Ukraine resist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. As tens of thousands of young, middle-class workers fled Russia out of disgust or necessity, the Biden administration has proposed easing visa restrictions for Russians with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But Republican leaders refused to allow the proposal to be included in legislation, several lawmakers and congressmen told me.

Now Congress may also be on the verge of letting go of China. House and Senate negotiators are working behind the scenes to merge both chambers’ versions of landmark legislation designed to prepare the United States for strategic and economic competition with China. The House version includes provisions that would grant special status to refugees fleeing the Chinese government’s crackdown on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and allow the Department of Homeland Security to fast-track the entry of up to 5,000 Hong Kongers. highly qualified. It would also expand visas for applicants with an advanced STEM degree from any country. The Senate version contains none of these provisions.

As part of the negotiations, intense discussions are continuing between Democrats and Republicans over those provisions, lawmakers and staffers said. But last month Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was opposed to including anything related to immigration in the bill, calling these provisions of “partisan” and “totally unrelated to the fight against China”.

Yet the push to help qualified Hong Kongers move to the United States has been bipartisan in the past. The language of the House bill is taken from the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Malinowski (DN.J.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), which passed unanimously in 2020. It died in the Senate after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) blocked it. Another bipartisan bill in the Senate to ease immigration requirements for Hong Kongers fleeing Beijing’s crackdown is also stalled.

“I urge my colleagues in the Senate to keep our bill in the final Chinese contest package,” Kinzinger told me. “We warn the Chinese Communist Party that their continued attacks on freedom could mean the loss of the very people who built Hong Kong’s economic success.”

In opposing the Malinowski-Kinzinger bill, Cruz claimed that accepting Hong Kongers was the first step towards opening our borders and that the Chinese Communist Party could exploit the program to send spies to the United States. . It ignores the fact that China has much easier ways to get spies into our country and that the CCP is trying to stop Hong Kongers from leaving because Beijing knows the risk of brain drain to China is real.

“It’s a debate between those who think our openness as a democratic society is an advantage in fighting autocracies or a disadvantage,” Malinowski told me. “One of the main lessons of the Cold War is that it’s an advantage. I just hope we choose the same strategy that won the Cold War.

One thing that has changed since the Cold War is that now those skilled workers fleeing Russia and Hong Kong have more options. Some reports say that 50,000 to 70,000 Russian tech workers fled to countries like Turkey, Georgia or the Baltics in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine. Hong Kong business leaders drop out for Singapore. Canada has already expanded immigration for Hong Kongers with advanced degrees, and thousands are taking advantage of it.

The whole world is competing for the talents of those fleeing Hong Kong and Putin’s Russia. Republicans’ excessive fear of immigration should not waste a strategic opportunity for the United States to strengthen itself and weaken its rivals at the same time. Congress should ensure that China’s and Russia’s losses are America’s gains.