Here's what’s missing in the president’s H-1B overhaul order
© Getty Images

Today, the vast majority of foreign workers who work in the IT field in the United States do so under the H-1B visa program.

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order to help improve the United States’s current H-1B visa system by asking certain agencies to clean up the system and rid it of fraud and abuse. 

But this is not the only change that needs to be made to America’s immigration system. 

ADVERTISEMENT
As an H-1B visa holder myself, I support rectifying abuse in the system, but I think it would be a missed opportunity not to look at the larger problem facing America’s visa system.

 

Immigrant workers fuel America’s growth, innovation and the economy. Changes to the immigration system should be strategic. 

Currently there is a huge green card backlog, as a result of which, people born in countries like India could wait up to 70 years to receive a green card. 

There are 1.5 million people currently in the backlog, living their lives in limbo and unable to contribute fully to the U.S. H-1B visas are issued to attract top talent to work at tech companies where comparable American talent is unavailable. 

So, it should be little surprise that H-1B visa holders who become green card holders have become income generators and, often, job creators. 

To qualify for a visa, an employer must be willing to sponsor a prospective employee. Those with H-1B visas are allowed to apply for their green card, which enables them to break free from needing sponsorship. 

Yet, without the freedom of permanent residency, a would-be immigrant entrepreneur is unable to start his or her own business or work for a company unable or unwilling to be a sponsor. 

Worse than an innovation bottleneck, these outdated laws lead to a brain drain with potential innovators returning to their home countries to pursue their business dreams there instead of here. 

Indians and Indian Americans are by no means the only example, but we’ve come to this country in notable numbers in recent years and have accomplished a great deal. We are leading companies like Microsoft, Google, Pepsi and MasterCard, while pioneering innovation in fields like medicine, academics and rocket science. 

Second generation Indians are present in a variety of other fields from politics to media, art, entertainment, philanthropy and business. According to research, 16 percent of the startups in Silicon Valley with immigrant founders are Indian — while Indians comprise less than 2 percent of the entire American population.

I came to America in 2005 to pursue my Masters at Bloomington University. Like many others, my existence in this country depends not just on my employer, but also on conditions that are completely out my control. 

As I approach a decade waiting for my green card, I am calling on Congress and our President to update its antiquated immigration laws and to fast track the green card backlog.

H-1B workers are highly-skilled and concentrated in an industry fueling tax revenue, innovation and job growth in the United States. But these are immigrants who also want to live the American dream and help native-born Americans achieve success. 

There are two solutions that could speed this process and help the current visa system. The recently proposed federal legislation HR 392, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, would expand opportunities for highly-skilled immigrants as well as help reduce the backlog of those workers applying for their green card. 

Passing this law would be an easy victory for the Trump administration and could unlock huge economic potential as people are able to grow their careers, invest and start their own businesses when they have more certainty. 

Second, I recommend that the Trump administration not just look to make vague changes to America’s visa system by having certain agencies review laws and by making wage and application adjustments, but to put forth the mandate to fast track the green card process for those in limbo. 

That could include charging guest workers added fees — but in exchange for years of living in limbo, many immigrants, such as myself, would save money and pay for it. It is a small price to pay for economic freedom and the right to live in America equal to others. 

This could add tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy without any disruption or cost — and it would supercharge the innovations and economic impact these workers would have on the United States economy.

These are two solutions that Congress and the President could employ now to jumpstart a generational leap forward in our immigration policies — ensuring that not only American laws, but that American innovation continue well into the 21st century.

Rishi Bhilawadikar is the creator of narrative feature film "For Here or To Go?" that spotlights the effects of the current visa laws on people's lives and the economy.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.