American Executives Increase Pressure to Reform Legal Immigration Laws

By Chris Wilkerson, staff writer – October 11, 2011

American business leaders have been pressing for legal immigration reform in the United States for years, but as the economy continues to struggle, the drumbeat is getting louder for policy change.

The language of the those pushing for legal immigration reform has reached the same pitch normally associated with illegal immigration reform with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling America “…the laughing stock of the world” because of the policy. [1]

The business community is concerned that without careful changes to the country’s legal immigration policy, the United States will continue to lose out as entrepreneurs start their companies elsewhere in the world.

Business leaders say the country is not granting enough skilled worker visas to graduates who came here to study. Many have no choice but to go home after graduation instead of moving into the American workforce.

NASDAQ President Robert Griefeld pleaded with the Senate Judiciary Committee this summer that they look at legal immigration reform on its own merit instead of linking it to the larger immigration issue, which is politically contentious. [2]

He argues that legislative inaction will rob the country of a generation of great companies. “A sobering fact is that Google, Yahoo and eBay, many of the job drivers of the last 20 years, would likely not be founded in America today under the current system,” he said.

It can be counter-intuitive to think so, but hiring skilled immigrants has been shown to actually boost American employment. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration hearing on Immigration Reform and Economic Imperatives in July, Griefeld cited a National Foundation for American Policy brief from March of 2008. [3]

“Opponents of enhanced legal immigration argue that when a foreign-born, highly-skilled immigrant gets a job, American graduates are the losers,” Griefeld said. “But my research and experience tell me quite a different story. The National Federation for American Policy says that for every H-1B worker requested, U.S. technology companies increase their overall employment by five workers.”

Griefeld’s words at the Senate hearing were heard loud and clear in India where multiple news services picked up the story including the Deccan Herald and the Times of India. [4] [5]

Other executives that joined Griefeld at the hearing included Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, who said his company is committed to improving education in the United States, but a shorter-term goal of legal immigration reform will go a long way toward bridging the immediate skills gap in the country’s workforce.

“We not only have a jobs problem in this country, we have a skills problem,” Smith said. “We think it’s important to address and modernize, as you’ve heard, the visa system for students so that they have greater ability and greater incentive to stay in the United States.”

About two months later, Republican Congressmen Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Lamar Smith of Texas co-sponsored a bill that would loosen restrictions on work visas. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, or H.R. 3012, would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act and free up restrictions on skilled workers from specific countries. There are only 140,000 employment-based visas given out every year by the State Department. As the law reads now, only seven percent of those can come from any one country. [6]

The new bill would eliminate the per-country percentage restriction. The same week as Reps. Chaffetz and Smith introduced their bill, Mayor Bloomberg addressed the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

In his speech, Bloomberg made an impassioned plea for common-sense reform. “Right now, Iceland gets the same quota as India. It just makes no sense,” he said of the per-country restrictions on work visas.

“We’ll get some from Iceland, and we’d love to have them come here. But just because of size, you’re much more likely to get an awful lot from India,” Bloomberg said.

He also used an example of a Canadian software developer named Eric Diep who had a product and investors in Silicon Valley, but had to move his company to Vancouver, Canada, where he has started another company using American capital to grow Canadian jobs because it is easier for him to attract skilled workers there from other countries.

“This is just craziness,” Bloomberg said. “But we can stop it by offering a conditional visa to immigrants who have capital to back their business ventures.”

This kind of incentive-based solution is spreading in an environment of economic desperation. Entrepreneur and Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa suggested in an August column that we could potentially start to solve two crises with one policy.

“We need to increase the number of skilled worker visas, particularly the EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 visa categories,” Wadhwa wrote. “To do this, we could make a visa contingent on the purchase of a home for $250,000 or more, thereby providing a boost to the struggling housing market.” [7]

Wadhwa expects that as many as 20 percent of qualified skilled workers would jump at a chance to buy a house here in exchange for a visa that would put them in the American job market.

“That amounts to more than 100,000 houses being sold within a short period of time – a roughly $25 billion potential boost to the anemic housing market,” he wrote in the Washington Post in August. “Plus these workers will furnish their new houses, buy new appliances, and buy new cars. That amounts to billions more in economic stimulus.” [8]

Attention to the issue of legal immigration has led U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to clarify H-1B guidelines. [9]

“The changes are technical and procedural, but the impact could be significant,” Wadhwa wrote in the Washington Post in August.

Speaking to the same meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly pointed out how illogical American policy is on legal immigration, Mayorkas spoke about some of the tweaks to the system his department is making. [10]

Those changes are significant, but fall well short of the kind of sweeping reforms being requested by NASDAQ’s Griefeld, Mayor Bloomberg and many others.

Sources

[1] http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/301798-2

[2] http://www.micevhill.com/attachments/immigration_documents/hosted_documents/112th_congress/TranscriptOfSenateJudiciarySubcommitteeOnImmigrationHearingOnEconomicImperativesOfCIR.pdf

[3] http://www.nfap.com/pdf/080311h1b.pdf

[4] http://www.deccanherald.com/content/179844/for-every-h-1b-visa.html

[5] http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-07-29/job-trends/29828925_1_h-1b-worker-h-1b-visas-employment-by-five-workers

[6] http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/52626376-90/based-bill-cap-caps.html.csp

[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-innovations/we-need-to-stop-americas-brain-drain/2011/09/14/gIQAHOuJLL_story.html

[8] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/post/how-a-change-to-the-visa-laws-could-reverse-the-housing-slump/2011/08/16/gIQADVI9IJ_blog.html

[9] http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/20110802-napolitano-startup-job-creation-initiatives.shtm

[10] http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/Resources%20for%20Congress/Testimonies%20and%20Speeches/Chamber%20Speech%20September%2028%202011.pdf

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