Senate Judiciary hearing highlights call for high-skilled immigration reform

He argued that foreign entrepreneurs and high-skilled workers build new businesses that contribute to a "ripple effect" across American communities. These immigrant-launched businesses boost local economies by putting more Americans to work and create new jobs across various industries, such as retailers and restaurants, in U.S. communities, Case said.

Case argued that passing high-skilled immigration reform is critical to maintaining the country's competitive standing globally. He said other countries are reforming their immigration laws to attract high-skilled workers because they "recognize entrepreneurship is the secret sauce that powered our economy." 

"If we don't get this right, our lead in entrepreneurship is going to slip away and we can't let that happen," he said.

It's a "false choice" for the U.S. to choose between improving math and science education programs and reforming the country's immigration laws for high-skilled workers, according to Case.

"We can and must do both," he said.

In the past month, senators from both sides of the aisle have introduced a set of bills that are designed to retain skilled foreign workers and graduates with advanced degrees in technical fields from American universities in the U.S., such as the Immigration Innovation Act and Startup Act 3.0. Those measures are expected to be folded into a larger, comprehensive immigration bill in the upper chamber.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he planned to introduce a bill on Wednesday that would eliminate the per-country cap for H-1B visa holders. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Raul Labrador (R-Ind.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced a companion measure, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, in the House.

The tech industry has relied on the H-1B temporary worker visas to hire foreign workers for jobs that require advanced technical skills, including scientists and engineers. Judiciary Committee members from both sides of the aisle voiced broad support for allowing more foreign high-skilled graduates, computer programmers and engineers to work in the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also signaled support for such proposals, arguing that foreign skilled workers have traditionally boosted the U.S. economy. 

"We know we need more of them in the country. They complement—not substitute for—American workers. They become job creators," Napolitano said. "It is a global talent pool that we want to have in the U.S. We want to be a magnet for those types of individuals because in the end they are job creators."

Lee called for streamlining legal avenues for immigration during the hearing, but cautioned against attempts to fix the country's broken immigration system in one fell swoop.

"I think we have a real historic opportunity to make some meaningful new progress … that progress shouldn't be held hostage, in my opinion, to demands that we solve every single problem," Lee said.

A bipartisan group of eight senators released a set of principles for comprehensive immigration reform last month and are currently working on crafting legislation. During the hearing, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, said the group is "making good progress" on drafting its comprehensive immigration bill.

"We have a timetable," he said. "We're looking to get this done."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was looking forward to marking up legislation "soon."

"Our window of opportunity will not stay open long.  If we are going to act on this issue, we must do so without delay," Leahy said during his opening statements. "I hope today’s hearing helps to emphasize the urgency of the situation."