Author: Eleanor Pelta

Our Grandparents were Entrepreneurs Too!

Anyone who believes that the entrepreneurial spirit is bred in the business school or the boardroom should visit “Shop Life,” a new permanent exhibit that opened recently at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York. The Tenement Museum tells the story of the immigrant families that lived at 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan from 1863, when the apartment building was constructed, to the 1930’s. In that small window of time, in these tiny tenement rooms, the daily lives of early urban immigrants vividly unfolds. Now, at street level, a different story is told–the story of the businesses these tenement dwellers created when they came to the United States. As Morris Vogel, the Museum’s Director aptly put it recently during a special reception celebrating the new exhibit, the tenement apartments portray how new immigrants got by; Shop Life shows how they got ahead. In one of two store-front areas the Museum has reconstructed the saloon that occupied the space from 1864 until 1886. The saloon was owned by John and Caroline Schneider, two German immigrants who sought to attract a growing German immigrant community that had formed an enclave in the Lower East Side. More than just a spot to find good German lager beer, the Schneiders’ saloon was the heart and soul of the community; a place for Sunday family gatherings, music-making, job and apartment-hunting and business...

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The H-1B Slow Dance: US Businesses Deserve Better

USCIS has told AILA that between the California Service Center and the Vermont Service Center, perhaps as many as 17,000 cap-subject H-1B petitions filed between April and mid-June remain unadjudicated, and many remain completely “untouched” by examiners. That means that USCIS has done very little, or nothing, with nearly 20% of the petitions filed by U.S. employers seeking the services of foreign high-skilled workers in fields as diverse as science, technology, business, education and marketing. USCIS has refused AILA’s requests to speed up processing of the backlog of H-1B petitions, saying that businesses that want faster service should request Premium Processing. Telling a large corporate petitioner to pay $1225 for Premium Processing Service in order to get an H-1B petition acted on after it has sat untouched for four months or more is bad enough – you’d think that for the more than two thousand dollars in filing fees that most petitioners pay that USCIS would act on a petition with greater alacrity – but, we know from USCIS’ own data from the 2008 H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment report that many of the businesses that use the H-1B program to meet needs for highly skilled experts are smaller businesses, those with fewer than 25 employees, with revenues under $10 million, and operating for less than ten years – the emerging companies and start-ups that are the focus...

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The Trouble with Caps and Limits

Monday, June 11th was the last day US Citizenship and Immigration Service was accepting new H-1B cases subject to annual numerical caps.  For the first time in years, the H-1B quotas of 65,000 for professional workers , and 20,000 for professional workers with U.S. advanced degrees, dried up in less than one fiscal quarter.  This happened the same day that we learned that the Employment based 2nd category,  for advanced degree holders and foreign nationals of extraordinary ability, would retrogress in July for nationals of all countries. The “EB-2”  category had previously been available for all qualifying employment based immigrants except those born in India or the People’s Republic of China.  India and China are big “feeder” countries providing us with highly skilled technology workers, engineers and scientific researchers and are badly backlogged due to our quota system’s per country limits for immigrant visas.  But the July retrogression means that with respect to applicants from other countries, only those whose first application for employment-based permanent residence was filed before January 1, 2009 would be able to complete the permanent residence process and receive green cards.  Others will be stuck in a backlog. Ironically,  the current U.S.  employment-based  immigration system was created under  the Immigration Act of 1990 (also known as “Immact 90”), with the intention of fixing the existing backlogged employment based immigrant quota system. The old system, in...

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Senator Grassley: Out of Touch with Economic Realities

Against a backdrop of recent press reports detailing the beating that the U.S. is taking in the international battle for brains and foreign investment, and calling for improvements to our laws governing high skilled immigration, along comes another letter of concern from Senator Grassley, this time addressed to the Government Accounting Office, asking for yet another investigation   What is the Senator concerned about this time?  Vague and unspecified “reports” of abuses of Optional Practical Training, the program under which foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities may work in the U.S. in their fields for a period during or after completion of their degree programs. The Senator would have perfect comic timing, if his efforts weren’t dead serious.  To those of us not inclined to view the health of the U.S. economy as a laughing matter, Senator Grassley’s most recent anti-business immigration salvo shows how dangerously out of step he is with respect to the current thinking about the connection between the economy and high skilled and business immigration. In the past year, there have been at least nine different legislative proposals that aim to improve our country’s attractiveness to the highly educated, especially in fields in which there are documented skill shortages among the U.S. born population, such as the hard sciences and the quantitative fields, and to enable those with innovative business ideas to stay and...

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Immigration and Jobs: The Dangerous Zero Sum Game Fallacy

There is a simplistic but dangerous theory that forms the underpinning of many restrictive immigration initiatives. It is perhaps elegant in its simplicity, but it is dead wrong. Not only dead wrong, but highly dangerous to our economic well-being. The theory is, in essence, that every time we eliminate the opportunity for a foreign national to either come to or remain in the United States, we create an immediate job opportunity for an American, — in other words, immigration and American jobs are somehow elements in a “zero sum game.”  One does not have to be a statistician or labor economist to see the obvious flaws in such a theory. For politicians, however, it is a highly attractive battle cry, especially in our current high-unemployment environment. But politicians who try to sell this notion to the American public are not only insulting the intelligence of their constituents, they are embracing a rhetoric that can do long-term economic damage in a time when we can least afford that. A perfect example of this is the recent Alabama state law, a “show me your papers” law that essentially made every single transaction between the state and its residents into an immigration checkpoint. Part of the rationale offered by Kris Kobach and others who devised and sponsored the legislation was that, to the extent that undocumented workers would be driven from the state,...

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