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Tang Dynasty China's Immigration Golden Age and the H-1B Cap, Pt. 2. By Roger Algase

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This is Part 2 of my two-part series about China's Tang Dynasty, which can truly be called a golden age of immigration. At the conclusion of this post, I will also venture a comparison with the welcoming attitudes toward immigrants in China during that far-off time (A.D. 618 - 907). and the somewhat different attitudes toward skilled foreign workers in the United States of America 12 to 15 centuries later, in this year 2015 of the Christian Era.

We are, of course, only a few days away from the April 1 beginning of the annual April H-1B lottery ritual madness, as America once again gets ready to reject an estimated two thirds or more of the educated, highly skilled foreign workers who are expected to have cap subject petitions submitted on their behalf this year. These professionals are asking for nothing more than the opportunity to put their talents and hard work at the service of America's economy and society, and to help our country maintain its competitiveness in the increasingly challenging marketplaces of the world (as well as inside the US).

America's response is to tell the great majority of these well educated and highly qualified professionals to go back to their countries of origin, or not to bother to come here in the first place.

As shown in my first installment of this series (see Immigration Daily, March 16 issue) Tang Dynasty China, and especially its capital city, Chang'an (modern Xi'an). was a global center and the home of almost every ethnic group, religion, fashion, musical, cuisine and sports style known in what is now East and West Asia at that time. People of Turkish and other non-Chinese origin were not merely tolerated strangers, but were accepted at the highest level of society.

According to some sources, there were even (unsubstantiated) rumors that the Tang Poet Li Po (Li Bai), generally regarded as one of the two most famous Chinese poets of all time, (along with another Tang poet, Tu Fu, a/k/a Du Fu), might have had some Turkic ancestry, to give just one possible (but not proven) example of ethnic assimilation in Tang society. There are many others.

More reliably, a well known contemporary Chinese writer, Jin Yong (b. 1924) has been cited as stating that during the Tang Dynasty, at least 23 non-Han Chinese held the post of prime minister.

This does not mean, however, that immigrants during the Tang Dynasty were free from all legal restrictions. The website quoted in my previous post on this topic,

http://www.silk-road.com/arti/tang.shtml

informs us as follows:

"Some of the foreigners came to trade, made a profit, and returned home; others settled permanently in the cities of China [presumably without any requirement of obtaining Form I-551, carrying it around on their person at all times, and risking having it revoked for trivial offenses, as with US green cards more than a millennium in the future]. Within each of these cities, foreigners lived in segregated areas, and from them the city government selected a respected or influential man as their chief."

The above website continues:

"Most foreigners adopted Chinese manners or habits. [Assimilation does not seem to have been as much of a problem in those days as some immigration opponents in present day in America would like the public to believe.] If a foreign [person] committed a crime against his own countrymen, the customary law of his native land would apply; [No paranoia against Sharia law there, it would seem, as many of the foreigners were Arabs according to this same site, unlike the situation in some US states.]if the crime were committed against a man of a different nationality or a Chinese, the Chinese law would prevail."

There was one restrictive proviso, however:

"Intermarriage with Chinese was allowed and many foreigners did marry Chinese women; they were not allowed, however, to take their Chinese wives back to their home countries."


It would be interesting to investigate the reason for this prohibition. Was China of that period afraid of losing population if too many women emigrated? Having no expertise in Chinese history or culture, I will not presume to try to answer this question or to speculate further on the reason for the restriction.

Suffice it to say that 21st century America has no compunctions about sending American citizens of either gender into involuntary exile if they wish to remain together with a non-citizen spouse who may have been unfortunate enough to get caught up in our relentless deportation mill (which a Texas federal judge has recently ordered to keep grinding away, at least as far as the Obama administration appears to be interpreting his decision, correctly or otherwise).

Nor, to get back to the H-1B context, does America circa A.D. 2015 have any hesitation about sending the most skilled foreign professionals back home accompanied by their American university diplomas, if not by American spouses.

If the ancient Chinese prohibition against foreigners leaving the country with their Chinese wives strikes us as irrational more than a thousand years later, how rational would Chinese society of that time have thought a requirement of sending the most skilled foreigners back home with their hard-earned, valuable, Chinese educational certificates in hand?

For that matter, how rational is America's policy of turning away the most skilled and educated foreign workers and sending them home, or barring them form our shores, by the standards of any sane society, ancient or modern?

The above should be enough to show that America has a great deal to learn from Tang Dynasty China as another April 1 rolls around.

As a final note, there is, unfortunately, one other lesson which present day America may be able to learn from Tang Dynasty China. This is that no period of tolerance of or welcome toward immigrants seems to last forever, no matter how enlightened a society may be.

The above website concludes:

"In general, Chinese and foreigners interacted peacefully until the 9th century when Uighur traders started conflicts with Chinese
[sic]. The public resentment against foreigners became clear when a law was passed in 779 to compel 1,000 Uighurs resident in Chang'an to wear their own native [costume] and forbade them to marry Chinese or to pass themselves off as Chinese in any way at all. Popular feeling against them mounted until, in 835, all private intercourse with foreigners was prohibited. In 845 all foreign religions were persecuted."

Evidently, the Tang Dynasty's golden age of immigration was at an end. Conflict between Uighurs and ethnic Chinese did, of course, not end at that time, but is still very much a part of Chinese current affairs. But that is beyond the scope of this post.

The moral of this story, however, remains clear. Openness and tolerance toward immigrants cannot be taken for granted in any society, at any time or place, but they have to be courageously fought for and vigorously defended.

America may be in a relatively tolerant time toward immigrants compared to other periods of our history, such as the late 19th and early 20th century exclusion laws and the racially-based immigration quotas of the 1924 immigration law which were not abolished until 1965 - only 50 years ago this year.

But it would be a mistake to become complacent and assume that this tolerance toward people who may look, speak or pray differently from the majority will automatically last forever.

From this perspective, the stubborn, irrational, refusal of Congress to increase the H-1B cap limits is more than just a severe blow to the most skilled and educated immigrants in our society and their US employers; it may be a straw in the wind signifying that there is mounting pressure for America to close its doors against all immigrants - just as Tang China ultimately did.

As if there were any doubt about this, one only has to look at the immigration enforcement-only bills that are now apparently ready to come out of Representative Bob Goodlatte's (R-VA) House Judiciary Committee - including one which would reinstate state racial profiling immigration laws such as Arizona's notorious S.B. 1070, and bring back Sheriff Joe Arpaio's terror raids in Hispanic communities and his infamous desert tents.

21st century America may have more of a lesson about immigration to learn from Tang Dynasty China than most people realize.
______________________________
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping employment-based and family-based immigrants overcome the obstacles of our immigration system and achieve their goals in America. Roger welcomes questions at algaselex@gmail.com

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Updated 04-09-2015 at 11:52 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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