The likelihood of historic immigration reform is increasing by the day.
For the Obama administration, it would be a significant second-term milestone. For Democratic and Republican lawmakers, it would offer proof to voters that they actually can work together after all on one of the most divisive issues of recent years. To the millions of workers in the country illegally, it is a sort of lifeline that brings people from the political and legal “them” column to the “us” column.
Yet immigration, as a policy or political issue, will not be wrapped up and set aside should this legislation be signed into law.
There remains important work to be done on getting America’s visa system for skilled workers and their families up to the standards of a 21st Century economy. This is not just a matter of addressing the shortfall in STEM workers, which has become a front-burner corporate issue.
A new approach to immigration policy is an essential part of improving America’s competitive position in the global economy. It is as much about national posture as it is about specific policy. The demand is there.
Take the U.S. quota of 65,000 H-1B visas. It was oversubscribed by nearly two-to-one. The cap was reached within a week, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, while another 20,000 applications were filed by people exempt from the ceiling. The lucky ones are just that — the picks are done by lottery. That is not sound policy.
Also consider that our universities train some of the world’s finest engineers, scientists and mathematicians. Many are not U.S. born and are forced to leave the country after graduation. Not only is that a poor outcome for a major investment of time and resources, it sends a signal that America does not want to be a destination for the world’s best. That makes it so much easier for our global competitors to welcome these talented workers.
When it comes to American competitiveness, narrative is important. Immigration is a central a theme of the American story. U.S. lawmakers have options for high-skill workers, including the Senate Startup Act 3.0, but have yet to see this through into law. If it is to remain so in the 21st Century, establishing new laws helping millions of undocumented workers become citizens should be the next chapter in America’s growth. But it must also be seen as just the start of something bigger.
Check out ASP’s White Paper on American Competitiveness that discusses these issues further:
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