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Enhanced Immigration Options for Entrepreneurs and Skilled Immigrants Overwhelmingly Supported

On 5 March 2013, the House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on "Enhancing American Competitiveness through Skilled Immigration". The Subcommittee heard testimony from business leaders, entrepreneurs, a former employment-based immigrant to the USA, and an immigration related educational foundation, all expressing overwhelming support for enhancing immigrant and non-immigrant visa opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs and skilled workers (particularly those with STEM degrees).

Dean Garfield, President of the Information Technology Industry Council, pointed out that the immigration system is broken, failing to serve the national interest since the number of allocated 'green cards' that can be obtained through employment has not changed since 1990, when the US economy was about one-third the size it is today. "[D]oes anyone here drive a car, operate a computer, or talk on a cell phone manufactured in but not repaired or upgraded since 1990? The answer: of course not," the speaker pointed out.

Indeed, the number of non-immigrant and immigrant visa petitions is woefully inadequate to meet the demands of the US economy and US businesses alike. The H-1B Specialty Occupation visa is one of those non-immigrant options where demand far outweighs the supply. Requiring the foreign worker to possess a Bachelor's degree and meet specified conditions, there are only 65,000 visas available each fiscal year. In actuality, some of these visas are set aside as free trade visas for citizens of Chile and Singapore, effectively leaving only 58,200 H-1B visas. The inadequacy of available H-1B visas is aptly illustrated by the events in April 2007 when, on the very day that the 65,000 H-1B visas were released, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received 133,000 petitions. The situation is particularly puzzling considering that US unemployment amongst individuals with a Bachelor's degree is only four percent, a figure considered to be "full employment" by most economists.

The situation concerning immigrant visas is similarly troubling. For example, an Indian foreign worker with a PhD who does not meet the strict criteria for being a 'priority worker' who was sponsored through employment back in September 2004 is only now having his 'green card' processed. Nationals of countries other than China, India, Mexico and the Philippines have a shorter wait time, but, because demand outweighs supply, the queues to obtain a 'green card' are still unacceptably long.

The immigration backlogs are a nuisance not only the foreign workers, but also US businesses. If businesses are unable to meet their staffing needs in the USA, they will relocate overseas, therefore eliminating American jobs and the revenue otherwise generated for the local economy. The situation is particularly dire in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries. In his testimony, American Immigration Council Ben Johnson provides detailed figures showing that foreign skilled workers, particularly those with Masters degrees and PhDs, complement the native workforce rather than compete with it. STEM occupations in particular have very low unemployment rates and demand for the skills of STEM educated foreign workers is high.

Immigration reform is doubtlessly controversial. As AIC's President points out, "in the highly politicized immigration debate of the last 10 years, the nuanced and complex role immigration plays in American economic growth, business development, and global competitiveness has too often been reduced to a few buzz words and myths designed to minimize the importance of immigration reform in this area, or to pit native-born workers against their foreign-born colleagues."

Nevertheless, as the heated immigration debate continues, an emerging consensus appears to be building that increased immigration options are needed to allow foreign entrepreneurs and foreign skilled workers, particularly those in STEM occupations, to serve the business needs of the American economy.