Practical enhancements must not be lost in push for immigration reform

ADVERTISEMENT
Immigration law is an always-controversial topic that has been in the spotlight in the ongoing discussion about American jobs and the recent Boston Marathon bombing. However, the ongoing need for comprehensive immigration reform that will create adequate, timely access to high quality scientists, technologists and engineers to support American scientific leadership and innovation cannot be left unaddressed.

Making it possible for the best and brightest to work in America is an ideal that most Americans, even those leery of potential job losses to foreign-born workers, support. A look at the motivations of the stakeholders with a vested interest in immigration reform debate shows where both the roots of potential obstruction and potential agreement to immigration reform lie.

Who are the stakeholders? American companies and their lobbyists, who on a seemingly scheduled basis, appear on Capitol Hill to decry the quality of American STEM education and to plead that America is becoming a second class economic power (and will continue to do so until Congress raises the cap on H1-b visas); the outsourcing companies, like Indian giants Infosys and Wipro (where, interestingly, the majority of employees are American-born) and their American counterparts, consultancies like IBM and Accenture, who share similar needs for temporary skilled workers; the advocates for American technology workers who believe that visas for foreign-born workers depress wages and displace competent American engineers and those of us in American universities who seek more F-1 visas for qualified foreign-born students and, particularly, greater career opportunity for these students, who are often forced to compete with their countrymen for jobs, when they graduate.  Ultimately, legislators must decide to support a bill that will be palatable to their constituents.

The priority should be to pass legislation that supports economic growth by meeting the needs of American industry, enriches the scientific and innovative life of our country, strengthens domestic STEM education and enacts a fair path to residency and citizenship for deserving high-skills workers.

This should include a four-part strategy for a better immigration law: A raise in the cap on H1-B visas; a simultaneous investment in better STEM education in American schools funded by the fees from additional H1-B visas; preference in hiring for international students who graduate from American universities (who are trained and acculturated and ready to contribute) and a fairer transition process for qualified H1-b visa holders.

In our current system these skilled workers, many of whom have lived and worked in the U.S. for years are often forced to live, as are their families and loved ones, in a limbo state, unable to change jobs, reunite with spouses and children, and have no clear path to a green card. In a fairer system, qualified workers will have a comprehensible path to residency status and citizenship and will have an easier time moving their loved ones into proper status.

The United States is on the verge of passing meaningful legislative reform that will enhance our ability to remain the prime destination for the best, brightest and most entrepreneurial scientific minds from around the world. If we care to maintain our position as the preeminent center for scientific and industrial innovation, Congress must do so.

Hill is associate dean of Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, is the co-director of the STEM Center Collaboratory at Pace University in New York.