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Witnesses Argue in Favor of Skilled Immigration at House Hearing


Skilled immigration was the topic of a hearing held on March 5, 2013, by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) opened the hearing. Witnesses included Bruce Morrison, Chairman, Morrison Public Affairs Group (testifying on behalf of IEEE-USA [a unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.]); Dean Garfield, President and CEO, Information Technology Industry Council; Deepak Kamra, General Partner, Canaan Partner; and Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director, American Immigration Council. (Read statements here)

Rep. Goodlatte noted, among other things, that foreign-born inventors have received 76 percent of patents awarded to top U.S. patent-producing universities in cutting-edge fields like semiconductor device manufacturing, information technology, digital communications, pharmaceuticals, and optics. He cited a study finding by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy that each additional 100 immigrants with advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees is associated with an additional 262 jobs for U.S. natives. The study also found, he noted, that immigrants with advanced degrees pay over $22,000 per year in taxes on average but their families receive less than $2,300 in government benefits.

Rep. Goodlatte lamented that despite the “outstanding track record of immigrants in founding some of our most successful companies,” the United States only selects less than one percent of immigrants on the basis of entrepreneurial talents. By contrast, he noted, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada each select over 60 percent of immigrants on the basis of skills and education. He recommended an approach similar to a House bill that did not pass the Senate last year. That bill would have redirected approximately 50,000 green cards from the diversity visa lottery toward foreign students graduating from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields.

He recommended that in the new Congress, all aspects of high-skilled immigration policy should be reviewed with an eye toward improving temporary visa programs for skilled workers, such as those on H-1B and L visas; improving the E-2 temporary visa program for entrepreneurs; offering green cards to aspiring entrepreneurs “that don’t demand that they themselves be rich but that instead rely on the judgment of the venture capitalists who have funded them”; reducing backlogs for second- and third-preference employment-based green cards; and seeking to help the United States retain more foreign graduates of U.S. universities.

Mr. Morrison noted that the Immigration Act of 1990 nearly tripled employment-based green cards from 54,000 to 140,000 per year, and set a permanent cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per year. He said this was to encourage employers hiring foreigners for permanent jobs to use legal permanent residence visas, putting them on a path toward citizenship. He argued in favor of providing more green cards for skilled workers and a more direct way for employers to sponsor new hires for green cards as soon as they are hired. He noted that 20 percent of IEEE-USA members are immigrants, and student chapters with a mix of native-born and foreign student members abound. He said there is a consensus among IEEE-USA membership that they do not want to be part of a system that uses temporary visas “to advantage or disadvantage some employees over others.” With green cards, he said, “you do not have to write endless rules regarding portability and prevailing wages. The job market sorts all this out.”

Mr. Garfield said the United States is creating technology jobs faster than we can fill them. He noted that other than a modest permanent change in 2004, the private sector has access to roughly the same number of H-1B visas as it did in 1990. He said the United States is likely to run out of the annual allotment of 65,000 H-1B visas “within weeks” of April 1, “leaving no new hiring options for FY 2014 and forcing businesses to move jobs elsewhere even when they may not want to.” Mr. Garfield said his organization recommends reform that helps to fill skilled job openings while accelerating new jobs and new knowledge-driven businesses; supplementing the U.S. workforce with skilled immigration reform; and using skilled immigration reform to maximize work in the United States that could be performed elsewhere.

Mr. Kamra argued in favor of a “StartUp Visa” category. He said the H-1B visa is not a workable solution for starting a company in the United States, since entrepreneurs need to devote themselves full-time to building a new company. He recommended including criteria such as requiring entrepreneur visa candidates to receive legitimate funding and to prove subsequent job creation or company growth. Among other things, he recommended that the required first round of funding for any StartUp Visa recipient not be too high, and that ongoing monitoring of the entrepreneur’s progress and milestones account for the high-risk nature of such companies.

Mr. Johnson noted that the talent we seek often comes to the United States not only through employment-based channels but also through family reunification, the admission of refugees and asylees, and even within the population of unauthorized workers. He suggested that the quest for talent is not an isolated enterprise but part of systematic immigration reform. He lamented the reductive “buzz words and myths” that fail to acknowledge the “nuanced and complex role immigration plays in American economic growth, business development, and global competitiveness” and pitting native-born workers against their foreign-born colleagues. He argued in favor of creating a “revamped and revitalized immigration system.”

Mr. Johnson recommended reforms that provide job portability, labor protections and economic opportunities for both workers and their families. He said the current system is inflexible and outdated, and argued in favor of a “nimble and efficient system” that responds in real time to the needs of the market by giving employers the ability to fill positions quickly with workers who are protected from exploitation.

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