What Would Smart Visa Reform Look Like?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Facing what some have said is a crackdown on temporary worker visas, the business world is arguing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should refocus its legal immigration standards. Businesses that want to hire foreign workers are having an increasingly difficult time doing so. Meanwhile, corporate leaders and experts argue immigrants with technical skills or innovative ideas are taking their talents elsewhere — creating a brain drain that will impact U.S. business for years to come.

Visa difficulties can be seen in fields from agriculture to technology to performing arts. (One high-profile example: Piers Morgan, Larry King’s probable replacement, can’t take over the show this fall due to trouble obtaining a work visa.) Amid criticism over long wait times and inconsistencies for visas for touring artists, USCIS officials said in July it would attempt to improve its visa system.

But large-scale visa reform is necessary to help companies, particularly small businesses, stay afloat, Businessweek reported yesterday:

Maureen Torrey, the 11th-generation owner of a vegetable farm in upstate New York, doesn’t have much in common with Atul Jain, the New Delhi-born founder of 14-year-old Global Software Solutions, an IT consulting firm outside Washington, D.C. Yet both say they’re suffering from an increase in government obstacles to hiring foreigners. “We’re in a crisis situation as we see no action by Washington,” says Torrey, 58, who recently cut back the land she plants by more than 10 percent, to 6,700 acres. [...]

Companies had hoped comprehensive immigration reform would make it easier to hire foreigners. In the absence of action by Congress, though, the federal agencies in charge of approving employment visas are making them harder to get, according to immigration lawyers and advocacy groups. The advocates argue that businesses seeking to legally bring in temporary workers from overseas are being hurt by tighter enforcement of regulations by officials who handle visa applications. Robert Groban, an attorney with law firm Epstein­BeckerGreen in New York, says the agencies are under pressure due to worries that “foreign nationals are taking the place of U.S. workers,” and are reacting to the political climate. IT consultant Jain’s response: “The economy will not improve just because foreign workers can’t come.”

The argument is allowing more workers into the U.S. — if done correctly — would help the economy, not hurt it. It’s not new: Microsoft founder Bill Gates argued in 2005 the government should end caps on H-1B visas or else drive skilled workers to Indian and Chinese companies. “The theory behind the H-1B — that too many smart people are coming — that’s what’s questionable,” Gates said. “It’s very dangerous.”

Republican Carly Fiorina, who is running for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat from California, said Monday the government should “start from scratch” to create a skilled-worker visa system that would help U.S. companies compete. “We have to put a huge emphasis on attracting the best and the brightest — this is a nation that has always led through immigration,” said Fiorina, the former chief executive at Hewlett-Packard. “Our visa system for high skills workers is in disrepair.”

The system could be improved by making visa admissions more strategic, Darrell West of the Brookings Institute argued in July:

At a time of high unemployment, the most pressing need is for more innovators who will start new businesses and create high-paying jobs. We’ve certainly done so successfully in the past.

A Duke University study by Vivek Wadhwa found that 25% of all the technology and engineering businesses launched in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had a foreign-born founder. In Silicon Valley, that number was 52.4%. Much of the high-tech boom of recent years has rested on immigrant entrepreneurship.

Yet only 15% of our annual visas are now set aside for employment purposes. Of these, some go to seasonal agricultural workers, while a small number of H-1B visas (65,000) are reserved for “specialty occupations” such as scientists, engineers, and technological experts.

Instead, the U.S should place a high priority on accepting immigrants with economic talents who might later start jobs in the U.S. or contribute to American business, West argued.

The political climate for visa reform is difficult. Experts say high unemployment has increased fervor over non-citizens taking jobs in the U.S. in the past few years. The sentiment even extends to difficult migrant worker jobs, prompting a tongue-in-cheek challenge to American workers to “Take Our Jobs” by the United Farm Workers of America.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said although people do not want illegal immigrants in the country, they also do not want to pay more for food, Politico reported Wednesday. “But if you didn’t have these folks, you would be spending a lot more — three, four or five times more — for food, or we would have to import food and have all the food security risks,” Vilsack said. “Neither is what Americans want. What they want is what we have. Which is why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

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19 Comments

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Cpat
Comment posted August 27, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

This article should have been titled “Lazy CEO's cry and moan to cover up their own greed”.

Bill Gates and other CEO's are attempting to drive wages of highly skilled workers down to minimum wage level. They are the reason high tech wages have been relatively stagnant for over 10 years.
And the government's cap of 65,000 H-1B's per year is a fictitious number, due to the government's own accounting methods which actually allows more than 65,000 per year. And the government's method of tracking H-1B's are another joke.
The Duke university study is some more bogus numbers. Until I know who paid for the study, I don't care what the results were. According to them, if 100 companies were started and 52% had a foreign born entrepreneur, and if each company had 3 founders, one of which were foreigners, you would have 300 entrepreneurs, only 100 of which were foreigners or 33% of the total number of entrepreneurs.

And as for Vilsack's remarks, where is the data to back it up. If this moronic hipocrite can't back up his statement with any numbers then he can shut the hell up.


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Foreign_H1B
Comment posted August 28, 2010 @ 4:12 am

While the anti-immigrants learn to spell words like “hypocrite”, here is an anecdote for you. As an H-1B in IT (in short, a much hated wage depresser), I doubled my salary over the 6 years I have been in IT. I started off making 60K fresh out of grad school, and have worked with just the one employer. About 10% of my company is comprised of H-1Bs, and 40% of development positions are filled by H-1Bs. 100% of the H-1Bs in my company possess graduate degrees from US schools.

My company has been growing by leaps and bounds since I joined shrugging aside both recessions. The H-1B percentages I quote above have remained constant; in effect citizens and non-citizens alike have gained in terms of jobs at my employer.

We do not outsource a single job. In fact, my company likes to keep all its jobs within a specific state in the US even though we're into 5 digits in terms of payroll strength.


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Pingback posted September 21, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

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