American business needs immigration reform

By Joe Echevarria
January 7, 2014

One thing the overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, regardless of political party, is the need for immigration reform.  Not only is it one of the keys necessary to create a healthier national economy and critical to America’s security, growth, and prosperity, it is also an integral component for the success of American business.

The current employment-based immigration system is broken to the point of disarray — but not to a point of disrepair. The facts speak for themselves:

1. In the European Union, work-related visas account for 40 percent of immigration (excluding intra-EU movement). In the United States, only six percent of foreign workers are granted permanent entry on work-related visas. Outdated institutional quotas are shutting talent and expertise out, when other countries are ushering them in.

2. Overall, 36 percent of those receiving a highly-coveted, highly valuable STEM-related doctorate in a U.S. university were students holding temporary visas. The situation is further exacerbated in PhD programs for engineering, mathematics, and computer science — over half of candidates enrolled are foreign students, studying in the U.S. on temporary student visas. They’ll go home, or elsewhere, equipped with gold-mark U.S. university credentials to put their education to work.

3. Between 1993 and 2008, the proportion of scientists and engineers over 50 in the U.S. increased from 18 percent to 27 percent. We’re simply not preparing to replace those who will soon retire.

While America has a bright future, we must have policies that enable American business to grow and thrive. Our policies must ensure that America is competitive around the world for decades to come.

Deloitte’s nearly 60,000 professionals work daily for over two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies, meaning our services, in some form, touch 17.5 million people, all of whom contribute to the strength and resiliency of America’s economy. What we experience firsthand and hear from our clients is that U.S. businesses today have the desire, willingness, and potential to do more — to grow more, innovate more, hire more, and contribute more to America’s economy.

But to do it, they need the ability and access to hire the right people for the right jobs.

Make no mistake: if we fail to attract the brightest minds and best people, other countries will.

This is a global battle for talent — a battle America is determined to win.

To keep America on top as the desired destination for doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs, startups and headquarters of multinationals, to keep America the place where anyone can realize their dreams if they’re willing to put in the work, we need to take four strategic steps.

First, we must uphold a continued commitment to higher education for Americans. We’ll create the jobs of the future here at home by attracting future entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists to study at the most prestigious, technologically advanced universities — and then inviting them to stay, get to work, and make their homes here, in America.

Second, we must quickly increase access to highly skilled professionals by raising the H-1B visa cap. This past year, the H-1B visa quota was met six months before the federal government’s fiscal year commenced – a record of 124,000 H-1B visa applications were received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for only 65,000 coveted slots. Even as American universities churn out highly skilled professionals — the envy of the world — there remains a steady demand for foreign talent to complement our domestic workforce. Making bright minds brilliant at our places of learning does the U.S. no good if we send those students packing after graduation.

Third, we must increase the number of available employment-based green cards. The principle of supply and demand informs us that the American economy — in sectors from agriculture to manufacturing, computer science to physical science — can absorb more talent. We have set arbitrarily low, artificial limits on who can obtain a green card — and correcting this will stoke real, measurable growth with more human energy.

Last, to ensure stability and predictability for American businesses, we must ensure a consistent visa processing system, one that includes strategic enforcement of the immigration laws already in place.

We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to bring real solutions to a system that isn’t working as we need it to. Our current immigration policies are not just hurting those looking to come to America, but those already here, by stifling opportunities for tremendous growth.

The need is immediate. The solutions are sound. It’s time for policymakers to take action to achieve a goal we can all get behind: elevating the quality of life of all Americans, and securing the future for American business.

PHOTO: A girl holds up a banner while people take part in a rally to demand that Congress fix the broken immigration system at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 6, 2013.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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