As Silicon Valley’s Representative in Congress, I have witnessed profound contributions in technological innovation and job creation by first-generation Americans and immigrants. If we do not expand and strengthen the pathways to permanent residency and citizenship for these high-skilled workers, our country will suffer a loss of entrepreneurship and decline in the knowledge economy.
Business leaders, academics, and policy makers agree that the U.S. is on the verge of workforce shortages, and they have called on Congress to address a great threat to American industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 9.2 million new jobs created in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines over the next decade. Without retaining more foreign-born graduates with advanced STEM degrees, our nation’s global economic competitiveness will be compromised.
This year, nearly 5,000 students who attend the University of California, Berkeley are not U.S. citizens or green card holders. Over 40 percent of the graduate students at the university’s premiere College of Engineering are foreign-born. Upon graduation, their visas will expire, leaving hard-working and brilliant students with few options to join the U.S. workforce and obtain permanent residency.
As the president proclaimed, “our journey is not complete.” Indeed, the journey will not be complete until we retain highly-skilled aspiring Americans, improve our nation’s education system, and increase the number of domestic STEM graduates. Comprehensive immigration reform must create a STEM visa category and reduce backlogs for high-skilled workers waiting to enter our country and join our workforce. We can attract the best and brightest talent and reach new pinnacles of innovation across industries, from alternative energy to medicine. That is why I co-sponsored the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012, legislation that would create a new “EB-6” green card category for persons with advanced degrees in STEM fields from U.S. research universities.
While creating pathways to citizenship, we must protect American and specialized immigrant workers, including those employed on H-1B visas. Visa holders are particularly susceptible to abuse and exploitation by employers. Our immigration laws must be fixed to grant workers more flexibility to change employers, jobs, or positions without losing their immigration status. H-1B workers who have been laid-off should be given an appropriate grace period to find replacement jobs. Additionally, employers must undergo stronger labor certification protocols to ensure wage and job protection for U.S.-born workers.
Strengthening immigrant families is another way to advance our nation’s economic prosperity. Families do together what they can’t do alone -- start family businesses and create American jobs. Current immigration laws are tearing families apart. There are over 4.55 million people in the family immigration backlog waiting unconscionable periods of time to reunite with their loved ones. That is why I introduced the Reuniting Families Act, legislation with practical solutions for reducing family immigration visa backlogs and promoting humane and timely reunification of immigrant families. The bill would also eliminate discrimination in immigration law against same-sex, bi-national partners and their families who are seeking to reunite.
The United States has always been a nation built upon the toil of immigrants hoping to build better lives for themselves and their families. Immigrant communities continue to better our country’s social and economic fabric. There is no question our economy’s international competitiveness depends on a robust immigration system. Join me in heeding our president’s call to complete our nation’s journey toward greatness -- where we reap Lady Liberty’s fruits of innovation and prosperity.
Honda is a member of the House Appropriations and Committee.