Shadow Government

U.S. Offer Hampers U.N. Missions

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.

John Moore/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Why the World is Watching India's Elections

India's election, which begins this week and rolls through May 16, will be the largest peacetime exercise in human history. It will feature 815 million voters, including 100 million new ones. It will boast 300 million more voters than in the next three biggest democracies -- America, Indonesia, and Brazil -- combined. And there will be decisive contests in single states like Uttar Pradesh, alone home to as many people as Germany, France, and Britain put together.

As I argue over in the Nikkei Asian Review, the election may also prove a turning point in India's political history -- one in which a new "politics of aspiration," to use the journalist Shekhar Gupta's phrase, replaces the old "politics of grievance" that was about redistributing the economic pie rather than growing it. The emergent urban, youthful, middle class India -- the India of 900 million mobile connections -- will displace the old rural peasantry as the decisive demographic. Restoring economic vigor through good governance and decisive reform will be the clear mandate of the electoral victor. Polling shows Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set to win decisively.

For the region and the world, India's revitalization under a new leader would have consequences far beyond its borders. The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is investing heavily in India as a geopolitical counterweight to China -- and an alternative market for Japanese companies increasingly rattled by China's authoritarian nationalism. Southeast Asian states meanwhile want a strong India as a player in regional security alongside the United States, China, and Japan. Beijing knows it cannot speak for Asia when a neighboring civilization-state of 1.3 billion people contests its leadership. And any true U.S. "pivot" to Asia must be anchored by robust partnerships with the predominant powers of the Indo-Pacific littoral -- India and Japan. In short, there is more at stake for Indian voters in the upcoming elections than their own domestic politics.

Beyond security, the world economy would unquestionably benefit from the return of India, and its billion-plus consumers, as an engine of global growth. GDP expansion has plummeted from nearly 10 percent in the late 2000s; the country has suffered eight straight quarters of growth under 5 percent as a result of the ruling Congress Party's cautious approach to reform.

Voters are no longer having it. As the Financial Times puts it:

Indians are no longer placated by Congress's brand of dynastic benevolence -- rural make-work schemes, handouts, and food subsidies. Because of uncontrollable corruption, much of that largesse does not reach them anyway. Instead, they want jobs, roads, teachers, justice, and a chance to make themselves a better life. Congress, kept in power by the fading allure of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for all but 13 years since independence, is no longer trusted to meet these aspirations.

While the BJP's approach to liberalization has flaws -- its campaign manifesto opposes opening the multi-brand retail sector to foreign investment -- Modi's record in Gujarat gives hope. The state he has governed for more than a decade produces a quarter of India's exports, has grown faster than the national economy for the last six years, and has an industrial base that more closely resembles China than the rest of India. A decisive victory for his party will help quell fears that alliance politics with regional leaders will put the new governing coalition in a policy straitjacket, precluding the dramatic reforms necessary to restore India's economic vigor.

India's return to dynamic growth through infrastructure investment and the rollback of antiquated restrictions on business will have international implications irrespective of the country's external orientation. But India's foreign policy will also be shaped by the ambitions of the man at the top. Here, hints about a potential Prime Minister Modi's worldview are intriguing.

It was the last BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who declared India and the United States "natural allies" after decades of alienation. His government conducted nuclear tests to balance China's military power and opened the door to U.S.-India defense cooperation. Vajpayee also sought détente with Pakistan, bullet-proofed by his hawkishness against charges of appeasement. This policy trifecta -- strategic partnership with America, strengthened deterrence against China, and an opening to Pakistan -- would be a neat hat trick for Modi to recreate, if he wins the election. He should also build on the new depth of strategic cooperation India's current government has developed with Japan, which could be a game changer for Asia. These policies would enjoy popular support: Most Indians view America and Japan favorably, see danger in China's growing power, and fear instability in Pakistan.

Modi heralds Vajpayee's foreign policy as the right blend of shanti and shakti -- peace and power. He promises to vigorously resist China's "mindset of expansion," including its claims to Arunachal Pradesh. His vision for U.S.-India relations remains opaque, tinged by a visa ban Washington imposed following the Gujarat violence. But he will certainly seek greater American trade and investment to catalyze Indian growth. This may be enough. The best way to restore momentum to U.S.-India relations is to get India growing again, making it a more attractive partner to the world's superpower.