In April, the Biden administration requested supplemental funding for additional aid for Ukraine. Included in the request was a provision that creates an expedited process for Russian scientists and medical professionals to defect from Russia and work in the U.S. This proposal is a pragmatic approach to foreign policy that demonstrates the multifaceted benefits of immigration.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the international community’s strategy has primarily relied on providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians while imposing economic sanctions on Russia. With Biden’s proposed plan, the U.S. would impose an extension of these economic sanctions through talent deprivation. Recruiting talent from high-value sectors such as tech and medicine, the U.S. would create a vacuum that will have long-term impacts on the Russian economy.
The U.S. has previously used similar practices in times of conflict. For example, during the Cold War, they implemented a “vote with your feet” policy that allowed defectors to protest their oppressive governments by emigrating to the U.S. As outlined by Idean Salehyan in The Strategic Case for Refugee Resettlement:
During the Cold War, U.S. refugee resettlement was guided by geopolitical considerations. Admitting refugees from war-torn regions and countries under the grip of authoritarian rulers was consistent with America’s self-image as a haven for oppressed people seeking freedom and opportunity.
This policy also allowed the U.S. to deplete authoritarian regimes of crucial talent, similar to Biden’s proposal.
Historically, there has been strong bipartisan support for using immigration to further our foreign policy objectives. Members of Congress have advocated for expanding refugee resettlement for various reasons, including “expressions of humanitarianism, solidarity with key foreign allies, concerns about religious liberty and political freedom, pressures from constituents, and support for military operations.” While immigration has become a more divisive issue in recent years, support for Ukrainian refugees and condemnation of Putin’s actions has extended across the aisle.
While humanitarian aid is paramount in times of crisis, so too is balancing foreign policy objectives, including economic interests. By allowing highly-skilled Russians to immigrate to the U.S, we are bolstering our economy, creating new economic sanctions on Russia, and enhancing our humanitarian objectives. Perhaps most importantly, it will reap tangible, long-term consequences on Putin, as his country’s brightest minds flee elsewhere, bringing along with them the skill and talents they otherwise would have shared among their fellow citizens.
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