The ongoing debate on U.S. immigration reform tends to focus on domestic aspects of this legislation still pending with Congress, but there is another issue worth looking at that has global impact.
A little known provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC § 1101(a)(27)(I)) authorizes the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to retired staff members of international organizations who, while working for multilateral institutions such as the U.N., live in the U.S. for 15 years.
Those engaged in the immigration debate rightly focus on the costs and benefits to the U.S. of immigration reform, but they are likely unaware of the detrimental impact this particular provision has on the work of the U.N. and other international organizations based here. Opening borders and welcoming others to stay in the U.S. may be beneficial in many ways, but it can hurt these institutions whose budgets are largely funded by American taxpayers.
By offering legal permanent residency to international bureaucrats, the U.S. is encouraging them to avoid being sent overseas on field missions — where they would share with their colleagues the challenges and benefits of being posted in a variety of locations, including hardship postings. These organizations are deprived of staff rotations and turnover, and those not already posted to the U.S. are unlikely to find many openings here. The result is a stagnant working environment, rather than a dynamic and vibrant workforce that could be more effective in tackling today’s global challenges.
For the past few years, this is precisely what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others seeking to reform the system have been striving to achieve. In August 2012, the secretary general presented his report on staff mobility as part of his human resources management reform proposal.
The report states his goal as “to improve the ability of the Organization to deliver its mandates, helping to ensure that the right people are in the right position at the right time, and allowing the Organization and staff to benefit systematically from the opportunities that mobility affords.”
Since then, Ban has faced an uphill battle fighting those most resistant to his proposal, namely the headquarters-based staff unions and many delegates in the U.N. General Assembly (who would have to vote to implement these changes). Both groups prefer the status quo to protect themselves or their fellow nationals.
The secretary general proposes a seven-year limit on postings at headquarters locations (like New York, Geneva, and Vienna) — which seems very generous when compared to the tours of duty of U.S. career diplomats based in Washington.
The U.N. already has a general policy — on paper — of placing a five-year limit on staff postings, but Ban has discovered that many U.N. bureaucrats are able to remain in their positions for far longer. So even if the U.N. General Assembly adopts his proposal, one wonders if the bureaucrats would find new ways to circumvent it.
Ban’s seven-year limit would still prevent G-4 visa holders of international organizations from automatically becoming eligible for U.S. green cards upon retirement, because they would effectively be unable to attain the 15 years of required residency needed to apply.
So we face a very unusual situation: The U.S. is now being far more generous handing out green cards than the U.N. secretary general would like it to be. The United States’ official position is to favor staff reform and mobility within the U.N. system, yet U.S. law provides a very strong incentive for international bureaucrats to remain here for long periods, rather than seeking assignments abroad.
Even more puzzling, the U.S. appears to be the only country in the world whose visa policies discourage international staff mobility. No other nation is as generous — and none reciprocates by offering permanent residency to U.S. citizens working for international organizations on its territory.
There is no justifiable purpose to continue this policy. The U.S. is already in the enviable position of attracting the best talent from around the world who also seek permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship. Whether retirees of international organizations spend their pensions here or elsewhere would have no appreciable impact on the American economy. The U.S. can afford to stop offering them green cards.
The bigger question though is whether the U.S. truly wants what it calls for: effective and creatively-managed international institutions. If the answer is yes, it should close a loophole in domestic legislation that only serves to impede this goal.
This article was originally published in The Hill.
Lagon is professor in the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former specialist on U.N. reform at the State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff. Rafii worked for the U.N. for 13 years and is now a reform advocate.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. national security advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |