ITAR and Immigration

Immigration is one of those topics that I don’t like to think about, because the current mess we have in this country tends to just get me depressed.  Earlier today, I saw a flowchart from Reason’s October 2008 issue showing how complicated and screwed-up our immigration process is.  The basic takeaway is that barring a couple of exceptions (mostly if they have a spouse, parent, or child who is a citizen), even getting to the point of having a green card can take many years, with citizenship often taking far longer than that.

I saw this a lot in the Philippines while I was on my mission.  Lots of people I knew who put off getting formally married in order to increase their odds of getting a green card (the plan typically being that once they had one, they’d go back get married, and bring their family over).  Which, in case you couldn’t guess my feelings on the matter, I think was a particularly perverse incentive.

The frustrating part though for us in the commercial space industry though is that it means that it becomes nearly impossible to recruit foreign talent–even from friendly countries like Canada.  In order to legally share ITAR restricted information with someone, without permission from the State Department, they have to be either a US citizen, or at least a permanent resident (ie a green card holder).  As you can see from the chart, if a potential foreign employee doesn’t have a relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident, it can take several years between when they start working for you and when they get their green card.  Unfortunately, for aerospace work, an H-1B visa isn’t (as I understand it) sufficient to meet the requirements of ITAR, so you would have to employ the person for several years in some sort of position that didn’t expose them to ITAR-sensitive data.  Or alternatively you’d have to go through the process to get State Department approval to speak with your own employee.

All this just goes to show how self-destructive and short sighted both of these bureaucratic messes are.  Part of what made America great was its ability to attract and assimilate the best and brightest from around the world.  But in the case of Aerospace, not only is the government making it harder to speak with foreigners in general, but its also making it harder for US firms to actually hire away the best and brightest.  But I guess that’s what happens when scare mongering against the Scary Brown Other and trying to score cheap political points by sticking-it to those “treasonous libruls” takes precedence over promoting the security, prosperity, and competitiveness of ones own country.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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12 Responses to ITAR and Immigration

  1. Adam Greenwood says:

    I’m on the other side of the immigration debate from you, I believe, though not necessarily in the particulars of H1-B visas and its intersection with ITAR.

    Part of the problem may be that due to political correctness we can’t narrowcast restrictions so we end up with ham-handed solutions of various kinds.

  2. How do you protect against plants sent to this country with the specific task of obtaining said ITAR info? Not to mention the foreign brain drain. We’re educating the worlds engineers and scientists and very few of them decide to keep it in the family and stay here. They take their traing and expertise and if rules were looser, ITAR restricted info back with them to China, Japan, India, etc in exchange for tuition. I think a better fix would be to offer incentives to domestic students to get into science and engineering. Even if they take their degree and start a marketing company, they’re still in the country. Eventually, that urge to build/tinker/take apart will hit and they are back in the work force. Just my two sense.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and I enjoy what you do. I haven’t finished school yet so some of your posts are a little over my head, but your blog give me hope. You may want to check mine out: Your blog is partially responsible for its creation.

  3. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I guess I was more thinking of situations going the other way. Not talking about getting entry-level foreign students to work for an aerospace company, but being able to hire on foreign experts. Case in point. I’m working on a business concept with a friend involving space tugs. One of the best experts in that field that I know is a Canadian working at MDA. If I could bring him on-board with this project, and eventually hire him on full-time, it would be a huge boon to us. He has more information about that ITAR restricted technology than we do–the net flow of information would be into the country not out of the country.

    But I can’t talk to him about the details without a TAA. I can’t hire him because it would take too long for him to get to the point in the immigration process where I could talk to him without a TAA. I could eventually get a TAA in place if this project ever became a going business venture. But it really kills early level development.

    And I know I’m not the only one in a situation like that.

    Making it so American companies can’t hire away the best talent from other countries is stupid and counterproductive. Assuming that just because we’re America that there will never be situations where there are experts in other countries with more experience in the topic is arrogance on the parts of our leaders.


  4. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I checked out your blog. Interesting read. I’m glad I’ve been able to inspire others a little. 🙂


  5. John Schneider says:

    Maybe if we didn’t have to assimilate one million illegal immigrants per year (66% of them Hispanic or Mexican, I believe) they we could sit down and worry about how to get the brightest foreign brains working for us.

  6. Grif Ingram says:

    As I’ve said before, I think that the ITAR thing gives us British a golden opportunity to develop our own alt-space industry,and come upwith unique ideas of our own!

  7. I doubt ITAR was written with migrant workers in mind

  8. Jon,
    I made mention of this post in my blog today in a news item about the Space Foundations’s white paper on ITAR.
    The report is here:
    and the post is here:

  9. E.P. Lowe says:

    These ITAR restrictions are ridiculous, and particularly galling in the fact that they are applied across the board – citizens of allied nations are treated the same as persons from states that oppose the US.

    There’s a certain two-faced quality to the whole thing too. US Citizens have no problems getting cleared to work on UK programmes – but UK Citizens working on US programmes – Camels & ‘eyes of needles’ come to mind.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of protectionist thought behind these rules – but they really annoy America’s allies. Annoyed allies can eventually become ‘not allies’ – and in this day and age America needs all the allies it can.

  10. “> 6. Grif Ingram
    As I’ve said before, I think that the ITAR thing gives us British a golden opportunity to develop our own alt-space industry,and come up with unique ideas of our own!”

    I agree, and I’m working on just that 😉

  11. Roga says:

    I’m with you on this one Jonathan. This country became great because of the huddled masses, who happened to include the best and brightest at times. If you love this country so much that you’re willing to leave the only life and home you’ve known, live in slum housing and work menial jobs just so your kids will have a chance to grow up here, I’d personally like to welcome you with open arms. How did we go from the huddled masses at Ellis Island to The Fence?

    On the topic of the brain drain – the loss of foreign graduates is a huge issue – but it’s not that they necessarily choose return over staying. They aren’t really give a choice in most cases, especially high tech. College students are rather unceremoniously booted out of the country after graduation, or else made indentured servants by the H1 visa process. As with everything else, when you make immigration illegal, only criminals will do it.

  12. Pingback: Selenian Boondocks » Blog Archive » The ITAR/Immigration Bifecta of Suck

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