Category Archives: Jobs

Connection: Jobs and Visas

Some time back the Orlando Chamber of Commerce did a study that showed for every 82 visas issued by the U.S. embassy and consulates in Brazil, one job is created in Orlando,Fla.

And look what we have now from Gallup: Orlando Tops Largest U.S. Metro Areas in Job Creation.

Orlando has recently experienced strong hiring growth in the hospitality and leisure sector — the greatest source of jobs in the area, which is known for its theme parks.

The growth in jobs in Orlando comes because foreign visitors want to enjoy all the theme parks in the area. (Think Universal Studios and Disney World.)

And as noted before, the people who issue those visas are U.S. Foreign Service officers. The problem is that no one seems to pay attention to the State Department budget or its staffing needs.

Orlando is a great example of a direct connection between the State Department budget and a local economy. Would be nice if more people (and news organizations) made the connection.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade

Foreign visitor information readily available

The trick to putting things into context is getting the right information.

With all the recent talk of illegal immigration to the United States, it is sometimes useful to look at legal immigration before going off on a bender on immigration law.

Fortunately the Department of Homeland Security puts out a regular report on the numbers of people coming — legally — across the US borders and where they come from. (I’m sorry, from whence they came.)

The bottom line is that the top 5 countries that sent visitors to the USA last year were:

  • Mexico – 17,980,784
  • United Kingdom – 4,566,669
  • Canada – 4,445,88
  • Japan – 4,298,081
  • Germany – 2,359,681

Brazil was in a close sixth place with 2,143,154 entering the US. (By the way — and this is an old story — a Florida business group did a survey about six years ago that showed a direct link between US visas issued in Brazil and jobs created in Florida. It is worth reviewing this piece.)

California and Florida — 11,182,804 and 8,089,139 respectively — were the top two desitnation sites. Kinda looks like a lot of tourism to me. And toursim means jobs and a more favorable foreign exchange situation.

There is a lot of information in this report that can easily be fodder for some great local-global stories.

One of the data points I liked was the growing number of foreign journalists coming to the United States with their families. That means they are coming to stay for a while. That means more coverage of the US overseas and more income for the communities where the journalists are going to live. (Granted, some could be for just a short time to cover a story and then go home, but even so, the numbers are impressive.)

Representatives of foreign media and their spouses and children:

  • 2013 – 45,827
  • 2012 – 44,472
  • 2011 – 51,459

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Filed under Connections, Immigration, Jobs, Story Ideas, Trade

Orlando sees connection between Main Street and the rest of the world

A recent study by the U.S. Commerce Dept. for the Orlando visitors’ bureau showed that the Orlando area saw an increase in Brazilian visitors. According to the Orlando Sentinel, about 1.3 million Brazilians visited Orlando last year. That number accounts for about one-third of all South American visitors to the area.

Visit Orlando commissioned the study from the Commerce Dept. Because of budget cuts over the past decade, Commerce stopped studying specific numbers of foreign visitors, relying instead on estimates.

Other major foreign contributors to the Orlando economy are an estimated 1 million Canadians and 750,000 Britons.

It was nice to see a straight-forward article from a LOCAL reporter about a LOCAL benefit from an INTERNATIONAL connection. (Orlando tourism’s Brazilian contingent grows sharply with improved head count)

Too often, too many local news organizations fail to see the connections.

Granted, in Orlando it is hard not to notice that there are a lot of foreigners at all the various amusement parks. But what so many fail to notice is that all those visitors can only show up thanks to U.S. foreign service officers around the world.

These FSOs issue the visas that most people from around the world need to visit the US.

A study some time ago in Florida showed that for each 82 visas issued in Brazil, one job in Florida is created. And the US embassy and consulates in Brazil issues tens of thousands of visas each year. (Just do the math on the 1.3 million visitors in Orlando and you will see that about 16,000 jobs were created just from Brazil.)

So with this kind of job-creating power, why do so many in the Congress want to cut the State Department’s budget? (The Ryan Plan — the gold standard for the GOP — wants to reduce the State Dept. to about 30 percent of its current size in 10 years.)

But that is a different issue.

For now, the issue is LOCAL news organizations need to pay attention to how they are affected by INTERNATIONAL events and circumstances.

In the case of Orlando and Brazil, the only reason so many Brazilians are able to go to Orlando is because Brazil has become a more wealthy country with a growing middle class. (And yes, the visas.) And Brazil got that way thanks to a lot of international trade and training, that included programs from the States.

Think about it, countries facing revolutions or economic upheavals do not make it easy for people to earn enough money to visit the US and spend money.

So yes, American journalists must keep track of what is going on overseas because much of what happens elsewhere can — and often does — have a DIRECT effect on LOCAL economies and individuals.

 

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Filed under Connections, Jobs, South America, Story Ideas

FINALLY! Foreign trade seen as something good

A recent Gallup Poll shows that more Americans have a positive view of foreign trade than a negative one. (Americans Shift to More Positive View of Foreign Trade)

Fifty-seven percent view trade as “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports,” while 35% see it as “a threat to the economy from foreign imports.” During the prior two years, Americans were evenly divided in their opinions about trade.

Why is this important?

In a globally connected world, international trade is the lifeblood of growth and development. And yet, so few people know anything how much international trade affects their individual lives.

There are the obvious connections, but few think about it:

  • Imported goods from China at the local Wal-Mart
  • All the Toyotas,Hondas, Hyundis, etc. on the road.

But there is also:

  • Iconic American beer is owned by the Brazilian company AmBev
  • The majority owner of Burger King is the Brazilian investment firm, 3G.
  • Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures are owned by Sony, a Japanese company
  • TomTom, the popular GPS firm is a Dutch company.
  • And, FYI: Holland is the 3rd largest foreign investor in the U.S. at $217.1 billion

The list goes on and on.

And none of that, the treaties that allow for protection of American companies making sales overseas or allowing foreign companies to invest in the US, can happen without a fully functioning and staffed foreign service. To be clear, my wife is a career diplomat, but the foreign service also includes people from the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, Labor, etc.

A country does not remain prosperous unless it finds new markets for its goods and services. As more countries develop — Brazil — they become competitors. It is in the  economic well-being of the United States and its companies to help impoverished countries develop strong democratic institutions and strong economies. Helping farmers in Honduras come out of poverty and ensure their children are educated means fewer illegal immigrants to the United States but more importantly future clients for American products.

That means foreign aid is an important factor in the economic well-being and security of the United States.

Unfortunately, foreign aid and the foreign affairs budget in general always seems to be the target of budget cutters.

Phil Plait — The Bad Astronomer — wrote about the budgeting cutting mania aimed at NASA. His complaint could be just as true for the foreign affairs budget.

[I]f you have a hard drive full of 4 Gb movie files, you don’t make room by deleting 100kB text files! You go after the big targets, which is far more efficient.

In the case of NASA, the space agency budget is just a little less than 1% of the federal budget.

In a survey in 2010, the Program for Public Consultation asked people to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average estimate was 21%. The average response for how much would be “appropriate” was 10 percent.

And the real number for foreign aid: About 0.5%

The real number for ALL non-military foreign affairs activities: About 1.5%.

Yep! That small amount accounts for all the salaries of all the U.S. diplomats and local employees in embassies around the world, the rent, maintenance and repairs for all embassies and consulates, all the costs for the State Department headquarters and related buildings in Washington, all the processing of passports, all the trade negotiations, all the Commerce Department assistance to American businesses looking to sell goods and services overseas, all the marketing of US agriculture goods to other countries and all the foreign aid that helps bring millions of people out of poverty.

Another way to look at it:

  • The U.S. military spends more on its marching bands than the State Department pays for its diplomats.
  • There are more soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in marching bands than there are U.S. diplomats. 

So why is the foreign affairs budget always under attack? Basically it is because there is no constituency for foreign affairs. The State Department does not build factories in just about every congressional delegation (as does the Pentagon). So the only people who care about the budget are either so-called “budget hawks” or people involved in international affairs. And because the issues of foreign affairs do not fit on a bumper sticker, few people care until something bad happens.

And this all gets back to the Gallup survey on the value of foreign aid.

If more reporters opened their eyes, they could see how their local economies are dependent on international connections. Or how international events have a direct impact on local events.

It would help if the State Department would also encourage its people to step out and start explaining to the general public about why having a foreign service is important to the economic well-being of the United States. Yes, some do, but too many do not.

It would be nice to see more discussions taking place in high schools and local news outlets about the local-global connections.

And — most importantly — how the economic well-being of the United States depends on international affairs and international trade.

Face it, this ain’t the 1950’s any more. It ain’t the 1960’s or 1970’s. This is the 21st century and that means reaching across borders for goods, services and accommodations.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade

Congress international affairs committees and Main Street

One of the real problems of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees is that there is no real domestic constituency for it. That means there are no goodies to hand out to the folks back home. (Think about it, the Armed Services committees get to hand out big-ticket jobs to build jets, tanks and ships all around the country. And other committees get to hand out new buildings, roads, airports, etc.)

So the only reason anyone would be on the international affairs committees is because he/she has an ax to grind on a global scale. And sometimes, that ax is wielded against the very concept of  international engagement.  (As in the time former committee member and then-Western Hemisphere subcommittee chairman Connie Mack (R-FL) put in a line item in the State Department authorization bill that would withdraw all U.S. contributions to the Organization of American States.)

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy has a couple excellent summaries of the changes from the 112th Congress to the 113th Congress on the House and Senate committee: New House Foreign Affairs Committee takes shape and SFRC gets four new Republicans.

Look at the line up in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Republicans

Democrats
Edward R. Royce, California, Chairman Eliot L. Engel, New York, Ranking Member
Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Samoa
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Brad Sherman, California
Dana Rohrabacher, California Gregory W. Meeks, New York
Steve Chabot, Ohio Albio Sires, New Jersey
Joe Wilson, South Carolina Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia
Michael T. McCaul, Texas Theodore E. Deutch, Florida
Ted Poe, Texas Brian Higgins, New York
Matt Salmon, Arizona Karen Bass, California
Tom Marino, Pennsylvania William Keating, Massachusetts
Jeff Duncan, South Carolina David Cicilline, Rhode Island
Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Alan Grayson, Florida
Mo Brooks, Alabama Juan Vargas, California
Tom Cotton, Arkansas Bradley S. Schneider, Illinois
Paul Cook, California Joseph P. Kennedy III, Massachusetts
George Holding, North Carolina Ami Bera, California
Randy K. Weber Sr., Texas Alan S. Lowenthal, California
Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Lois Frankel, Florida
Steve Stockman, Texas Grace Meng, New York
Ron DeSantis, Florida Joaquin Castro, Texas
Trey Radel, Florida Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii
Doug Collins, Georgia
Mark Meadows, North Carolina
Ted S. Yoho, Florida
Luke Messer, Indiana

And here is the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee:

Democrats Republicans
John Kerry, Massachusetts, Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee, Ranking Member
Barbara Boxer, California James E. Risch
Robert Menendez, New Jersey Marco Rubio, Florida
Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland John McCain, Arizona
Robert P. Casey Jr, Pennsylvania Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
Chris Murphy, Connecticut Rand Paul, Kentucky
Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire John Barrasso, Wyoming
Christopher Coons, Delaware Jeff Flake, Arizona
Tim Kaine, Virginia
Tom Udall, New Mexico

Without any ability to pass out domestic goodies , why are these committees important to Main Street America?

Bottom line is that everything covered in these committees from treaties to foreign aid to top-level government appointments has a direct connection to Main Street America, it’s just that jingo-ism and short-sighted political maneuvers ignore that connection.

Protection of Americans and American Interests

More Americans are taking cruises. More Americans are traveling, whether for work, pleasure or education. A growing number of religious groups send volunteers to developing countries to help build schools or medical clinics. Other groups provide free medical care to those who are too poor to afford care or whose country’s medical facilities are unable to  handle the pressing needs.

No matter the reason for the travel, each America overseas expects to be protected by the U.S. government.

Perhaps “protected” is too strong a word. The embassies and consulates around the world do not provide actual physical protection to U.S. citizens abroad. (They don’t even provide it for embassy or consulate employees.) But what the U.S. government tries to do is protect the interests of Americans overseas. They intervene to ensure that Americans are treated fairly and justly by the host country.

It is only by having a strong and dedicated foreign service and adequately staffed embassies and consulates can the interests and well-being of Americans living and traveling abroad be protected.

The service is the same for a cruise ship passenger who gets in trouble during shore leave in the Caribbean as it is for a businessman looking to secure a contract to build an airport in a foreign city.

Thus, this international work affects Main Street. Most Americans probably know at least one person who has benefited from the efforts of the U.S. foreign service. It could be a soldier protected by a Status of Forces Agreement, a person who lost her passport in London, parents who adopted a baby in China or a foreign student who was issued a visa to study in the United States.

Treaties

Without free trade treaties American-made goods would cost too much for people in other countries to buy.

Take two examples. In Honduras, with the Central American Free Trade Agreement, buying Hershey chocolate syrup or Tabasco sauce is easy and inexpensive. The only difference in price between buying those items in Virginia and Tegucigalpa is the cost of transportation.

In Brazil, however, those same items not only have the transportation cost but also import tariffs that are as high as 110 percent of the initial price. First the national government imposes an import duty of 70-100 percent at the port of entry. Then, the item is taxed by the local state when the goods get off the ship. If the products are being trucked to another state in Brazil, then that state imposes another tax. (You will note that the first state taxed the item even though it was not sold in that state.) And if it goes to a third state, there is yet another tax. And finally there is a sales tax at the store.

Brazil does not have a free trade agreement with the United States. Therefore it is more difficult to sell goods and services to that country. It is done, but at great expense.

The treaties that gain American businesses access to other markets are negotiated by the State Department.

To compare the two countries one more time in terms of trade, in 2009 U.S. exports to Brazil represented 2 percent of Brazil’s GDP. In 2007, U.S. goods and services exported to Honduras represented 38 percent of that country’s GDP.

Granted one is poor (Honduras) and another is wealthy (Brazil) but relations with Honduras are exceptionally cordial and productive. Not so much with Brazil. Trade does impact global politics.

And all those U.S. companies that set up plants in Brazil, China, Honduras, etc depend on treaties negotiated by the State Department to protect their interests and copyrights.

And of course, treaties also allow for foreign goods to enter the United States while, at the same time preventing those goods from being “dumped” on the U.S. market at less-than fair prices.

So, Main Street benefits.

It’s not all multi-nationals.

Having a vigorous overseas presence by the U.S. government to look out for Americans and American interests means a lot to small companies across the country.

Small and medium businesses — companies with less than 500 employees — accounted for 34 percent of goods exported in 2010. The SMEs represented 97.8 percent of U.S. exporters. We are looking at about $383 billion (yep, with a “b”) in export earnings.

These companies could only sell their goods overseas because the State Department laid the legal and economic ground work in the importing country.

Small companies in small towns benefiting from international agreements. Yes, Main Street benefits  again.

Foreign Aid

Now this is the big thing, isn’t it?

Folks like Rand Paul have long been critics of any foreign aid. They talk about how upset Americans are because the U.S. spends “outrageous” amounts of money on countries that disrespect the United States. They then call for an end to foreign aid.

In terms of “outrageous” amounts, the ENTIRE U.S. development aid budget represents less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget. Cutting foreign aid hurts friends and potential friends around the world for an act that equates to removing one small WORD document in an effort to free up space on your hard drive. (Apologies to Neil DeGrasse Tyson on that analogy.)

What does that small amount of money spent overseas bring to people in the United States.

The first thing development aid brings is a chance for another society to break the cycle of poverty and help bring the receiving people into the middle class. With that comes more purchasing power and more customers for American products.

The aid programs also bring good will. The people who benefit from the programs look more kindly on the United States and its generous people. In democracies that means a lot. The recipient governments cannot last long bucking the public trend if they are indeed democratic.

Aid programs also reduces illegal migration to the United States. In Honduras my wife and I have met numerous farmers who were ready to pack up and head to the States. They all stayed in Honduras, however, after they enrolled in USAID programs that showed them how to grow cash crops and how to connect to a market for those crops. Most of these farmers are now teaching other farmers the “tricks of the trade.” That means more farmers are not considering illegally going to the United States and more families are staying together and moving up economically.

Development programs that help build new markets for American goods, engender good will among the people, reduce illegal migration to the United States and help keep families together are worth keeping. Unfortunately these same programs are the ones that are the target of a growing number of short-sighted budget cutters.

Bottom Line

As stated, the international committees of the House and Senate cannot hand out goodies to their states. At least nothing that makes headlines.

The committees, however, do control how well (or poorly) America is represented overseas. They determine if America will be seen as a model for the rest of the world or one to mock.

The problem comes in when members join the committees to push their own domestic agendas. The problem comes when they do not see how the well-being of Main Street Americans is enhanced or endangered by how the United States is able to conduct its foreign policy.

Each member of the committees cannot provide a big prize for his/her state or district, but what they can produce is a stronger America and more American jobs by understanding and strengthening America’s presence overseas.

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Finally, US media does ICE familiarization story. More needed

For countries in Central America, the U.S. immigration laws are important. Many Hondurans and Guatemalans enter the States illegally to find a better life.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security has the job of rounding up and deporting those who violated U.S. immigration laws. But let’s be realistic here. Most of those arrested for immigration violations were first arrested for some other crime.

Once arrested for immigration violations, the people are processed and repatriated to their home countries. How those people are treated is of vital concern to the countries they come from. (Just as the U.S. is concerned how its citizens are treated in foreign jails.)

About a month ago ICE hosted a familiarization trip for Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials to help them learn more about the United States’ detention and removal process and policies.

This visit was BIG news in the Honduran press. But only now are U.S. media outlets picking up on the story.

ICE familiarization trip educates foreign immigration officials on U.S. detention and removal process and policies

Washington, DC – Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hosted a familiarization trip for Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials to learn more about the United States’ detention and removal process and policies, and to strengthen ties between the United States and both countries.

During this three-day trip, the officials, along with foreign service nationals and representatives from foreign nongovernmental organizations, traveled to south Texas to gain personal insight into the lifecycle of the detention and removal process.

Rest of story from Imperial Valley News.

For the Hondurans and Guatemalans the visit was an eye-opener. The visits also help ease relations between the United States and the Central American countries. The visitors saw first-hand how the detention and deportation process worked — instead of relying on rumors. And facts — seen and touched — carry weight when countries try to work together to solve a problem.

For the Central American countries part of the problem is that some of their most ambitious people are leaving because of limited opportunities in their home countries. Another part of the problem is that those who are caught committing a crime in the States and then being found to not have the U.S. proper immigration papers bring their criminal wiles to back home.

For those who leave because they see little hope for a better life in their home countries, USAID has been addressing that issue for some time. My wife and I have met a number of Honduran farmers who contemplated leaving for the States so they could earn enough money to feed and clothe their families. But after they signed up for the Feed the Future program, they found that within a year they could earn enough to not only feed their families but clothe and educate their children.

Explaining the treatment of people detained and deported is an important story for people in other countries and in the USA to understand. But it is only one part of a much larger story.

Without justifying why people illegally enter the United States, stories about why people face the dangers of illegal immigration needs to be told. Americans need to know what social, economic or political forces drive these people from their homeland and their families to risk the trip north.

Along those lines, about programs designed to help countries grow economically and socially — and thereby slow down illegal migration — need to be done.

For less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget USAID is working to build stable and prosperous countries around the world. The people who benefit from those programs are not only the ones in Latin America and Africa but also the United States. Prosperous countries buy more imported goods. And the U.S. can be a supplier of those goods.

If other countries are socially secure and economically well off (or at least getting better), their people will see opportunities at home and work harder to help their own country grow. And when they start buying U.S. goods, that means more export-related jobs in the United States.

But too often the links back to the States of foreign development aid are not made. And the political rhetoric encourages drastic cuts without any consideration to long-term effects.

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Argentina: Latest example of why US should care about free press elsewhere

During the past few years the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina has been playing fast and loose with economic reporting in the country. At the same time the government has been attacking the independence of Argentina’s media.

The cooking of the economic books and attacks against free media are linked and have an impact on U.S. jobs.

According to official Argentina government figures, a person can survive on six pesos a day. (US$1.30 on the official rate, US$1 on the black market.) The problem is that six pesos only gets a person a small sweet cookie. A more realistic number, said one university study is 24 pesos.

In addition, private economists say the country’s annual inflation is 24%. The official rates is 10%.

Since 2007 when the Kirchner government has ordered INDEC, the official  statistic agency to fudge the inflation numbers, few people have taken the official numbers seriously. For example, The Economist stopped the INDEC numbers as part of their weekly index on inflation.

Now, the IMF is stepping in. The BBC reports that Argentina  could face sanctions from the IMF unless it starts producing reliable growth and inflation figures. IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave Argentina until 17 December to address the problem.

Using a football (soccer in the US) analogy, Lagarde said the IMF was giving Argentina a “yellow card” but was facing a “red card” if it doesn’t straighten up.

“We had to choose between the yellow card and the red card. We chose the yellow card. If no progress has been made, then the red card will be out,” she said.

But getting the government to stop lying to itself and the rest of the world is only part of the issue.

Along with forcing the once-honored government statistics agency to “fudge” the figures, the Kirchner government has also been harassing the independent media. The same media that dares to report that a person cannot survive on six pesos a day.

The Kirchner government uses tax law, news print supplies, and anti-monopoly legislation to attack its critics. Freedom House ranks the Argentine media as Partly Free. Besides the government actions, there have been physical and other types of attacks on members of the media, including the murder of community journalist Adams Ledesma Valenzuela.

Why is this important to Main Street America?

One word: Jobs.

For businesses to operate reliable and accurate information is necessary. Especially important are accurate reports of inflation and economic growth.

The top five exports to Argentina from the United States (2011) are:

  • Fuel Oil: US$1,300 million
  • Organic Chemicals: US$857 million
  • Petroleum products: US$496 million
  • Plastics: US$478 million
  • Computer Accessories: US$464 million

Other key exports include telecommunications, civilian aircraft, pharmaceuticals and industrial machines.

Predictably, the top-5 states exporting to Argentina reflect where those products are strong (2011):

  • Texas:  US$2,563,263,155
  • Florida: US$1,738,007,600
  • Illinois: $483,396,402
  • California: $443,545,461
  • Louisiana: $411,135,903

Without trade to Argentina, each of those states would be so much weaker economically. (And that has a direct impact on US jobs.)

To sell these items to Argentina, the U.S. companies have to have accurate and reliable economic numbers. Other companies hoping to sell to Argentina need these same accurate and reliable numbers.

But with government manipulation of the official statistics and a campaign to intimidate the independent media, getting accurate and reliable numbers seems far-fetched.

Transparent government policies and independent media in other countries have a direct impact on what happens in the USA.

If U.S. firms cannot rely on the numbers they get from Argentina, they may not consider selling to that market. That could mean fewer new jobs in the American economy.

And fewer jobs means a bleaker Main Street, USA.

For Argentina the pressure is building to at least correct the transparency issue.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Jobs, South America, Trade