Immigration reform gets a boost

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Tuesday signals a clear shift in the discussion around immigration reform. President Obama owes his victory in no small part to Latino and Asian American voters, who according to the Los Angeles Times, voted for President Obama over Governor Romney by roughly 3-1. Those voters were angry that the President did not make immigration reform a priority in his first four years and will expect it to be a centerpiece of his second term in office. Likewise, Republican strategists see this anger and the continued support of Hispanic and Asian voters for the President as a missed opportunity, a clear sign the GOP must do more to appeal to the growing number of non-white voters. As Rep. Raul Labrador told Politico, “it behooves Republicans right now after the elections to figure out how to work on this issue.”


That does not mean that comprehensive immigration reform will be easy. The same challenges that have plagued immigration reform in the past will undoubtedly resurface. What should be done about the millions of people who live here illegally – some of whom came to this country as children – and know no other home but America? Should greater efforts be made to secure our borders with Mexico and Canada? What is the proper blend of family and employment based immigration, and how should we weigh the skills immigrants bring to America in determining their place in line?

In an interesting twist of fate, this renewed interest in comprehensive immigration reform may actually undermine recent progress to improve high skilled immigration. In the last year, we have seen growing bipartisan support for creating a new category of employment-based visas for foreign born graduates with advanced degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM). The House of Representatives voted in September on a bill to do just that – which failed for political and procedural reasons but may be reconsidered this month. With the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform on the horizon, some legislators may prefer to wrap the popular STEM visa issue into a larger reform effort. We have seen this happen in the past, and it is likely Congress will again want to use high skilled immigration as a “sweetener” in comprehensive immigration reform efforts to bolster the support of business minded moderates in both parties.

While we support comprehensive immigration reform, our first order of business as a U.S. high-tech manufacturer is innovation. We know what’s at stake for our company, our employees, the technology industry and our economy at large if we cannot recruit critical U.S. and foreign workers to meet the highly skilled demands of our industry. Our nation cannot afford to turn highly skilled foreign professionals away to develop intellectual property, start businesses and create new jobs elsewhere in the world.

With that in mind, Intel will continue to advocate for any and all legislation that provides additional STEM visas for our U.S.-based foreign employees and new hires, some of whom have to wait years and even decades before they are granted permanent status — these are the same folks that produce an average of three new U.S. jobs just by bringing their skills to America. We are also pushing Congress to complete passage of the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, a targeted but important bill that would lift the cap that restricts the percentage of visas that can go to people from any one country.  These are common sense improvements to the system that can be done now and without impacting the desire of highly skilled companies to lead on comprehensive immigration reform.

The first order of business for Congress and the President following the 2012 election is to address the looming fiscal crises. Tuesday’s results, however, indicate that comprehensive immigration reform may not be far behind. Passage of bipartisan, high-skilled immigration legislation would be a great way to kick-start the effort.

Muller is director of government relations and Immigration Policy at Intel Corporation