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What North Korea thinks about US immigration reform

And other reasons why Asia cares — and stands to gain — from proposed immigration reform in the US.

Asia immigrants 2013 01 31Enlarge
Job fair in Xian, Shaanxi province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Though the promise of US immigration reform largely reverberates throughout the Americas, the proposed overhaul could also have a major effect on Asia. After all, now Asians are the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States.

The bipartisan plan that eight senators pitched this week remains rough around the edges. But the talk is that it will include more than double the number of visas offered to highly skilled workers, as well as increased efforts at border patrol.

Find out just how the Philippine economy could get a boost, precisely why India's tech sector stands to gain, and the surprising reason why one North Korean defector thinks US immigration reform is just plain great. 

Philippines

According to the Department of Homeland Security, only Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala send more undocumented immigrants to the US than the Philippines.

For the most part, the former US colony is the sole Southeast Asian nation that continues to see mass migration toward America. Most come to work low-wage jobs and send money back home.

The proposed laws, which would limit deportation of many undocumented immigrants younger than 30, are cautiously embraced by several Filipino rights groups. The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns called the plan "short-term relief" and pushed the White House to offer more stable paths to residency.

The overhaul could also have ripple effects on the Philippine economy. According to US government figures from 2008, roughly 300,000 undocumented Filipinos reside in the US. Filipinos in America — with and without papers — send a whopping $6 billion home each year, according to the Central Bank of the Philippines. More Filipinos working on the books could improve their employment prospects, their pay and, ultimately, up the flow of cash sent back to their families in the Philippines.

— Patrick Winn in Bangkok

China

The Chinese response to Congress’ proposals for immigration reform has been equal parts pragmatic and skeptical.

On the one hand, many admired the ideal of an inclusive society. "Tolerant and open countries hold the future," wrote one user on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. "People create wealth, it is the country’s most valuable resource.”

Others were a bit more shrewd, even cynical, about the political incentives for politicians to embrace such a huge population.

“It's sickening, the 11 million potential votes of illegal immigrants is all the Democrats want,” said another, voicing a surprisingly common sentiment.

The piece of policy with the biggest potential impact on China — the proposed increase of visas for high-skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — was also greeted with some caution.

While some celebrated the improving prospects of immigration to the US, others were dubious it would add up to much.

“There has always been a delusion about Obama’s immigration reform, believing that he will open the floodgates to STEM students,” wrote one user. “In fact, illegal immigrants have always been the top priority. There are over 10 million illegal immigrants who for welfare reasons will vote Democratic. There are 10,000 STEM students, which isn’t remotely the same order of magnitude. This is the reality of the one-man one-vote system. STEM reform is merely on the table, nothing more.”

— Benjamin Carlson in Hong Kong

India

US immigration reform that would dramatically increase the number of visas for highly skilled foreign workers could be hugely beneficial to India's software and IT services industry.

Currently, India's software and IT sector accounts for nearly 15 percent of the H1-B visas, as they are technically called, issued by the US government, according to Ameet Nivsarkar, vice president of global trade at India's National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom).

“We are not really as an industry concerned about permanent immigration and the right to settle in the US,” said Nivsarkar. “We are concerned about the ability of our companies to deliver on the contracts they have signed up for.”

“The services trade is closely linked to the individual delivering the service,” Nivsarkar said. “Typically what happens [for] a customized product or application is that a lot of the development work happens at the development center in India. But the deployment and testing and everything must be done where the customer is. And it's important the person who worked on the development does the testing.”

Currently, the US government issues only 65,000 H1-B visas a year, though the demand is so high that the quota is used up in the first few weeks. If the proposed bill passes, the regular quota would increase to 115,000 visas, with room for a further increase to 300,000 visas depending on economic demands.

The new reforms would also exempt foreigners who earn advanced US degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics from the quota.

— Jason Overdorf in New Delhi

North Korea

A former law professor at a North Korean university, now living as a refugee in Seoul, compared immigration issues in the US with the problems facing North Korean defectors in China.

Ever since the end of the Korean War, some 100,000 North Korean citizens — by conservative estimates — have crossed the border into China, escaping poverty and political persecution.

But China has a policy of repatriating North Korean defectors because it recognizes them as “economic migrants” and therefore not refugees under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, to which China is a signatory. He said that returned North Koreans usually serve a three-month prison sentence, but even though that’s a short period, the cramped conditions and torture make it hell.

“The Chinese officials say the situation is like the Mexico-US border, and that America should not interfere in this internal matter. The US, they say, sends those people home too,” said the teacher, who asked not to be named fearing retribution against his family in the North. “This is not all true. North Korean refugees should legally, under international law, be considered refugees and granted asylum in China. This is because they all have a legitimate fear of persecution should they return.”

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“But Mexican migrants? The government celebrates and even encourages them to go to America, because they send money home. No political persecution there.”

The point? “Immigration reform is great. It only gives less fodder to the Chinese and North Korean dictators who try to deflect attention away from themselves. They justify their bad behavior by pointing to American problems.”

— Geoffrey Cain in Seoul

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/130130/us-immigration-reform-asia-reacts