Not Just Dreamers – Here Are Three Real Immigration Problems Congress Should Address (And How to Fix Them)

The United States Capitol Building at DuskHouse Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday announced two votes on immigration legislation in the United States House of Representatives, derailing efforts by bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives to secure the signatures necessary to vote on competing immigration reform bills using a discharge petition.

The upcoming votes on two separate immigration bills – one proposed by Representative Bob Goodlatte and a “compromise” bill said to be favored by more moderate Republicans – will highlight the widely discrepant views on immigration held by conservative and moderate Republicans in the House. The Goodlatte bill, which is not expected to garner enough votes to pass, would offer temporary legal status for Dreamers in exchange for draconian changes to the current immigration policy – including funds for President Trump’s border wall and severe limits on immigration visas. The “compromise” bill is still being developed by House Majority leadership.

Any debate on the immigration bills comes at a politically charged time, as elected officials turn their focus to November elections. Immigration reform will likely be a hot topic as President Trump and the GOP look to continue promoting the protectionist campaign promises that fueled his election.

As our elected officials look to reshape and reform immigration laws in the United States, we hope conversations will move past political rhetoric and will address issues that reside outside of partisan lines. It is our view that those U.S. residents currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) should be given a clear path to citizenship, and should not be used a political football in immigration debates. The fact is, real immigration reform needs to happen.  Congress should not wait until after the midterm elections to start addressing these issues – as many of these fixes are common sense, bipartisan solutions. Working with business leaders and highly-skilled foreign nationals every day, we have firsthand experience with ways our Legislative and Executive branches can create real, effective reform to immigration in the United States.

Immigration Challenge: Businesses Across Sectors Rely on Immigration to Ease Labor Shortages

One of the biggest threats to a robust United States economy in the decades ahead is not competition from foreign workers, rather, it is an identifiable shortage across business sectors – from highly skilled workers to manual laborers and every category in between. Employers from family farmers to small business owners to corporate executives will struggle to fill jobs as aging Baby Boomers retire – if they aren’t struggling to fill those jobs already. Compounding the issue, as US labor markets shrink, competition from foreign markets have increased as Canada and China look to capitalize on faltering American business immigration policies.

Immigration Solution: Ease Burdensome Restrictions for Highly Skilled Workers

While the President has argued for closing family-based immigration and diversity visa programs and has said he wants to create immigration policy that favors highly skilled workers, his proposed policies actually threaten workers employed in the United States in technology, research and education fields. STEM employers in Silicon Valley and President Trump have long been at loggerheads over his stance on H-1B visas – where tech start-ups and research facilities see a method for filling jobs for highly skilled workers in competitive labor markets, the President sees a visa system that is exploited by foreign workers who take high paying American jobs.

So far, President Trump’s immigration policy has centered on changes made to the way United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles these visa applications. The result was a 45% increase in request for evidence (RFE) challenges last year – and a culture of fear among those in the United States already as the President threatens to take away or undermine the extension process for those already granted work visa status.

The benefits of the H-1B program far outweigh the risk to US workers. H-1B visa holders work alongside their American counterparts as researchers who search for a cure for cancer, as professors in our higher education systems, as highly skilled medical providers, and as technology innovators and future entrepreneurs – and they, too, want to build a life and contribute to the American economy.

It’s time for Congress and President Trump to move beyond nativist rhetoric and look to the H-1B visa as a way to attract and retain highly skilled workers who are being welcomed by competing economies. Strong regulations already exist to ensure that U.S. workers are not adversely impacted by H-1B workers. If additional safeguards are needed to prevent misuse – they should be put in place logically and with an eye toward business growth. The future of innovation in the United States depends on having highly skilled workers in place to respond to rapid changes in global marketplaces – and those workers are both American and foreign born.

Immigration Challenge: The United States is Losing the Battle to Attract Foreign Born Entrepreneurs

A person who identifies a problem, finds a solution, and builds a business around it – perhaps no other type of worker embodies the American Dream like the entrepreneur. Whether opening a brick and mortar store or developing a vital technology solution, entrepreneurs provide a needed service, hire workers and expand the local, state and national economy.

President Trump’s freeze of the International Entrepreneur Rule, an Obama-era initiative to create a path to temporarily work in the United States for foreign born entrepreneurs, adds to feelings of insecurity among this highly sought after population. Even though the freeze was overturned in Federal Court, lingering concern over the program’s future could detrimentally impact the intent of the rule.

Immigration Solution: Implement a Visa or Petition Process Specifically Geared Toward Attracting the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Disruptors

A man stands at a desk while coworkers work behind him.It is time for Congress to act boldly as it creates immigration policy that will attract the next generation of foreign-born job creators. An effective visa program for entrepreneurs would include a path to green cards for entrepreneurs who currently must self-petition using a National Interest Waiver or Extraordinary Ability petition. Like the current self-petition standards, the applicant would show their acumen as entrepreneurs, but would be adjudicated based on standards from the business world, such as leadership positions or track records in emerging startups.

Immigration Problem: Harmful Rhetoric is Standing in the Way of Real Reform

President Trump’s unorthodox “leadership” style is punctuated by seemingly off the cuff remarks and reactionary tweets. This unapologetic component of the President’s communication strategy, and the responses it elicits, do not move the national conversation on immigration forward. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of hardworking people, who are in the United States or hope to move to the United States legally, are caught in the crosshairs and are developing grave doubts about their prospects for a future in the U.S. At a time when our country depends on foreign born workers to ease critical shortages in medical fields, to help fuel innovation in our science and technology sectors, and to bring their international perspectives to our global economy, we can’t afford to lose workers to rhetoric.

Immigration Solution: Uproot Bombast to Attract the Best and Brightest

Researchers in a labratory.As business immigration attorneys who work with hospitals, universities, corporations and businesses of all sizes, we have seen the anxiety caused by political rhetoric. Employers want to know how they can retain the services of their vital team members and foreign nationals want peace of mind to stay in the United States and successfully work and live in the communities they have come to call home. The current administration should move beyond the rhetoric and begin having conversations about building the economy, facilitating growth, meeting the real labor needs of our industries, and attracting entrepreneurs. Smart immigration policy leads to prosperity for all.

America is the land of opportunity. It’s time for Congress to view immigration policy through the lens that makes our country truly unique – a nation of immigrants, bound by our belief in liberty and justice and the pursuit of our American dream.

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