A Second Look at Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In February, I wrote about why comprehensive immigration reform has a chance to pass this year; now, it’s time to discuss how immigration reform can strengthen the US as a whole.

Immigration reform has heavy bipartisan support, spearheaded by President Obama and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (FL). Sen. Rubio is a member of the “Gang of Eight”, the four Democrat and four Republican Senators who have introduced new immigration legislation to Congress — Rubio has also assumed the role of spokesperson for the pending bill in the Senate. The House is also sponsoring several other bills on immigration.

There are security and economic reasons for the US to reform its immigration policy, both of which will have a major impact on the US economy.

The Security Side and the Impact on Employers

Immigration reform is not going to happen without enhanced border security and metrics to measure the levels of security reached. Another measure of security to guarantee a legal workforce is to make both E-verify and Form I-9 compliance mandatory for all employers.  Senate has already earmarked $110 million dollars to these programs — employers should see new compliance regulations soon after a new immigration bill has passed.

In addition, electronic checking of departures by CBP will ensure that non-immigrants depart on the date their authorized stay expires, according to their Form I-94 record. Departures are currently recorded with a paper I-94, which is surrendered upon exiting the US. The new electronic I-94 will record departures from passenger manifests issued by airlines. Entries are currently recorded, but exits from the US are not recorded uniformly at all ports. In addition, the new bill will mandate that all passports be electronically read, which would reduce human error.

It is a misconception that highly skilled visa holders somehow depress US wages. On the contrary, where certain technical skills are in short supply, employers pay top dollar wages for visa holders and high fees to the federal government, as well as jump through legal hurdles to employ these workers. The cost of employing a foreign worker is more expensive than a domestic worker.

The Economic Side

Granting legal status to more immigrants will relieve our labor shortages in both high-skill and low-skill arenas. The educational background of native-born Americans typically includes high school and college education — few are without high school diplomas, and hardly any have Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The educational background of immigrants, on the other hand, is quite different: while many lack high school education, others hold Ph.D.s in STEM fields.

Most of the debate on immigration reform has focused on giving legal status to undocumented immigrants, upon the condition that they pay fees and back taxes. This will certainly have positive effects on our economy; however, we have more to gain from immigrants, both young and old, who, after gaining legal status, decide to further their careers in the US. Once these immigrants feel reassured about their future in the US, they will be more willing to invest in their careers.

One of our current problems is that many skill workers have trouble gaining a foothold onto the path to citizenship. Foreign entrepreneurs and technologists who study in the US are often denied works visas and return to their home country to find success. This issue is both stunting economic growth and causing a brain drain in America.

The number of available temporary visas is rarely revised and is still dependent upon caps and quotas. Our economic conditions have not been taken into consideration. Increasing visas both for high skilled workers, and lower skilled entrants in agriculture and forestry, could have a positive effect on wages and reduce the number of illegal entrants and overstays.

Immigrants also bolster our productivity growth. According to the Wall Street Journal, foreign scientists and engineers, who came to the US with an H1B visa, contributed 10-20% of the yearly productivity growth in the US from 1990-2010. Attracting innovators to our country will undoubtedly create more jobs, as more innovation means more labs, universities and companies doing research. Yet, the US’s H1B visa program only creates 65,000 visas per year for highly skilled workers. That amount has proved to be insufficient, as H1B visas quotas fill very quickly as in the last cap.

There are clear economic and security needs for streamlined and comprehensive immigration reform, and lawmakers and politicians must take action. Congress is set to vote on immigration reform before the July 4 congressional recess.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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