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The Dangers of 'Deglobalization'

From construction laborers to Harvard-educated bankers, foreign workers are being forced to return home as once-booming economies around the world contract. Globally, 24 million to 52 million people could lose their jobs in 2009, according to the International Labor Organization's latest estimates. And populist sentiment and protectionist moves in countries which relied on foreign laborers during the boom years have put 200 million migrant workers internationally in the crosshairs.

Examples of the new protectionism abound: The United States enacted a law in 2009 imposing strict restrictions on hiring of skilled immigrant workers by companies receiving government bailout money. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia directed companies to lay off foreign workers first if they needed to downsize. In Britain, large-scale protests (Telegraph) were held against the use of foreign workers at an oil refinery. The Philippines reports over 5000 Filipino workers lost their jobs overseas from October 2008 to January 2009. Even Ireland is debating its liberal immigration laws which allowed for massive levels of immigration to sustain the country's economic growth since the late 1990s. In a September 2008 poll, as the country's economy faltered, 66 percent of Irish felt immigration policy should be made more restrictive (IrishTimes).

Experts dub this deglobalization. Some analysts also express fears of a reverse brain drain. Examining skilled immigrant contributions to the United States, Duke University professor Vivek Wadhwa notes immigrants founded a quarter (Issues in Science and Technology) of all U.S. engineering and technology companies between 1995 and 2005, including half of those in Silicon Valley. CFR's Matthew Slaughter says skilled immigrants can help revive the economy by creating more jobs in the United States. "Keeping them out damages us," he writes, as a co-author of a...

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