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Guest contributor Max Parsons (no relation) recently responded to a column I wrote outlining the U.S. government’s attacks on the legal immigration system and the consequences faced by international University students and skilled immigrants. I appreciate Parsons’s response, which seems a genuine attempt at constructive discourse with my “partisan diatribe.” But Parsons’s reply, which focuses on a loophole in the H-1B visa program and advocates for a “deservingness”-based immigration system, reflects a lack of engagement with several of the key points I made in the original column, and contains misinformed ideas about the history of legal immigration in America.  

Parsons correctly guesses I hold an F-1 visa, not an H-1B. But I don’t conflate the two: an F-1 student must transition to an H-1B visa if they wish to remain in the United States after graduation. This is why the U.S. government’s blunt “reforms” of the H-1B visa program are so damaging to the 12 percent of Princeton’s student body that is international. And this is why my original column focused on the H-1B, not the F-1.

Parsons makes central a key question in his response: Who is deserving of becoming an American citizen? He flatters me by telling me I make the cut. But he condemns the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) and thus implicitly endorses limiting immigration to those with “merit.” Behind this seemingly noble but poorly defined sentiment of “deservingness” is a thinly veiled, self-righteous understanding of how most American families became U.S. citizens. “Deservingness” has never been a part of the picture.

The vast majority of U.S. citizens can trace their ancestry back to immigrants, whether they be pilgrims or Puritans, indentured servants or slaves, Englishmen and Germans fleeing crop failure in the first and second waves of migration or Chinese and Japanese immigrants seeking economic opportunity in the third wave. What all of these immigrants have in common is that they were never singled out as “deserving.” There simply is no elite group of citizens whose ancestors were purebred, deserving Americans. Which means that neither Parsons, nor any citizen born in America, can arrogantly claim they “deserve” to be American by virtue of their birth.

The use of “deservingness” as a justification for cutting legal immigration seems more like a politically correct attempt to empower prejudice and promote the old, white, Protestant America that the President wants to make great again. The top four H-1B visa recipient countries are India, China, the Philippines, and South Korea, with Indian immigrants receiving more visas than every other country combined. I hope that Parsons would still be a stickler for ‘deservingness’ if those countries were England, France, and my home country, Australia.

Deservingness has never been a defining feature of American immigration, though let us assume for a moment that it is and should be. A system that promotes deservingness should not, surely, hinder the immigration of law-abiding, ambitious students at America’s top universities. But, as I explained in thorough detail, this is exactly what has occurred in the wake of the Buy American, Hire American executive order and a swath of other directives over the past two years. Parsons advocates for deservingness-based immigration, but also defends the government’s recent policies, as though they have not disrupted, delayed, and threatened the immigration security of Princeton’s own international community. I cannot speak for (the other) Parsons, but the government’s goal appears to be to limit the number of immigrants that manage to stay in America, regardless of the consequences for “deserving” immigrants.

And that was what motivated my original column—to defend Princeton’s 12 percent of undergraduate international students and our peers striving to immigrate lawfully to America as millions have before us. All that anyone can ask for is a fair, open, non-discriminatory immigration process.

But the H-1B visa program, as it is, does have flaws that make it less than fair for both Americans and immigrants, and it is here that I see room for sensible agreement. Parsons brings up an important observation about loopholes in the H-1B visa system that can cause migrant workers to be underpaid in certain circumstances. No worker wants to be underpaid, especially considering that the H-1B visa currently does not allow a worker to respond to market cues and pursue other employment options if their current employer violates expectations like adhering to market-based wages. Ensuring the fair free market wage of every worker, especially if accompanied by the decoupling of H-1B status with specific employers, is a reform international students would support, even if it meant a more competitive hiring environment for us.

It is not the competition that foreign workers shy away from; it is the arbitrary rejection of our immigration applications. As I detailed in my last column, the government has not succeeded in passing any immigration reform, let alone fair reform. Instead, it has resorted to often absurd disrupt and delay tactics that make immigration needlessly difficult, unpredictable, and damaging for international students and others (in my case, my work authorization was delayed two months because my passport photos were “too dark”). These tactics certainly do not achieve the kind of bipartisan reforms that Parsons and I may agree on. 

It disappoints me to see that a fellow Princetonian would fail to empathize with his international peers, or at least to see the nonsense behind the U.S. government’s attempts at “improving” its immigration system. But I also thank him for his reasonable, diplomatic approach. Both (Max) Parsons and I advocate for an improved immigration system, though we disagree on what exactly that entails. Clearly my colleague is concerned for the welfare of American workers. I respect that. I only hope that before too much damage is done, he can see that legal immigration is not a threat to Americans. It is, in fact, a key part of America’s history and identity. 

Sam Parsons is a Wilson School major from Wangaratta, Australia. He is also a managing editor at The Daily Princetonian. He can be reached at samueljp@princeton.edu.

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