Written by Tony Weigel, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee
After serving for nearly two years on AILA’s Media-Advocacy Committee, I have closely followed a number of immigration policy issues. There are clearly some issues that spark more controversy than others, but many wholeheartedly agree that our policies should encourage immigration that directly contributes to investment and job growth in the U.S. Though surprisingly, in spite of consensus across party lines, little to nothing has been done.
My worldview, skewed as it may be, is one of being born and living most of my life in the Midwest, where politeness is the norm, the benefit of the doubt lives on, and second chances abound. However, even I am growing tired of the excuses and have heard enough double-talk from our leaders in Washington, DC. Now is the time to pass and implement critical business immigration measures to sustain and jump-start job growth. Some days, usually after telling a client of his or her limited visa options or of potential waits for an employment-based green card, I feel like reenacting the scene from the 1976 movie Network and screaming from my window, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Across America, many AILA members have directly interacted with international students, long-term H-1B workers, and the business community. I have volunteered time at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in a few capacities. Last fall, I presented at a session with international students about their visa options. Some could not or did not want to believe the disparity between the information available on www.uscis.gov about their options and the unreasonable, restrictive policy and adjudication standards that foreclose dreams. There was even greater disappointment with the state of legislative solutions.
It has been over two decades since the Immigration Act of 1990 was passed with bi-partisan support. Times have changed since then. Both technology and business models have evolved, yet our laws that facilitate the incorporation of foreign talent have not.
That level of disappointment spikes for these prospective job creators once their attention shifts to the abysmal availability of employment-based immigrant visas, especially for those from India and China. Why? Because if they are lucky enough to stay beyond their student visas and later seek a green card, they will take their place among the ranks of tens of thousands of other talented foreign nationals stuck in a long and growing line.
The potential loss of this country’s international student population would be a travesty, but consider the impact if every H-1B worker holding that status for longer than 6 years packed up and left the U.S. That collective transfer of experience, knowledge, and talent would be detrimental to our economy. Without doubt, we should have a functional permanent residence process, not a dysfunctional permanent application process.
Our elected leaders in Washington, DC constitute 537 of the most powerful people in the world. But when collectively pressed to address these issues, they answer, “We understand the problem and would like to help, but …” It is always “but” something. Don’t they realize they are destroying dreams and killing opportunities of foreign nationals and their prospective investments of talent and treasure? Don’t they care about U.S. workers in dire need of better employment opportunities that would flow from these investments?
Everyone knows things are bad. A quick read of the U.S. Department of State projections regarding employment-based visa availability is a prime example. However – unlike the reality-based fictional problems in the movie Network – we have leaders who seem to know what to do and there can be an end to these problems.
It would be a game changer if Congressional leaders could agree to promptly consider the solutions offered up in legislation like Representative Lofgren’s IDEA Act, H.R. 2161, or the current version of the Startup Act, championed by Senators Moran and Warner, and pass focused measures to help jump-start job growth in the U.S.
Fortunately, there are areas in which the Administration doesn’t have to wait for Congress to act. It can and should address the overall tenor of USCIS adjudications. The “culture of no” has transformed itself into the “status quo of no.” That needs to change. The January 2010 Neufeld memorandum is killing job growth opportunities and needs to be withdrawn.
Unfortunately, little has resulted from the high-level, 2011 pronouncements from the both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security with respect to administrative fixes to business immigration policy. The Administration’s Entrepreneurs in Residence proposal includes several positive steps for foreign nationals, such as permitting entrepreneurs to petition for permanent status, but to date there have been few concrete results. Even the simplest of actions, like making Premium Processing available for international manager and executive immigrant visa petitions, are inexplicably held up. According to a USCIS panel held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 9, 2012, Premium Processing will become available “eventually” as more training is required before going live.
We have big problems. Starry-eyed adoration of “job creators” and meaningless rhetorical efforts will not fix these problems. Serious work needs to be done now! The cost of inaction is too high. At some point, international students and long-term H-1B workers will stop dreaming about their long-term opportunities in the U.S. The business community will eventually conclude that Washington, DC, will never get this right. No one wins if we continue to erect artificial, irrational barriers to job growth.
I’m tired of all the talk. The U.S. can be a beacon of opportunity, not a place of disappointment. Elected leaders, please go to work tomorrow and do something to address these problems now while there is still time on the clock.
Now, you must excuse me. I’m headed to the nearest window to scream. Feel free to join me.