Outdated Immigration Laws Frustrate Employers

An American passport, Chicago immigration

The outdated immigration laws in the United States are creating hurdles that are leaving many Illinois employers frustrated. Although the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was home to more than 10,000 international students from 119 countries in the school year of 2013-2014, very few students will remain to work in the local economy after they graduate. Like many other campuses across the country, the university has expended extensive amounts of energy and innovation to attract some of the most talented individuals from around the world, but as their F-1 student visas expire the Illinois economy merely sees opportunity lost.

Since our outdated immigration system offers limited options for these bright and aspiring students to work long-term in America, the United States has become an exporter of invention, innovation and academic achievement at the cost of American development. Upon graduating, many of these immigrants hold degrees in sought after fields like science, math, technology and engineering. Employers in Illinois, and throughout the U.S. struggle to fill these types of positions, and as a result America’s progress falls behind while competing countries with less stringent immigration laws benefit. By 2018, analysts predict that approximately 2.4 million jobs in STEM fields will go unfilled without effective immigration reform.

In the Midwest, where four out of the 10 colleges with the highest population of F-1 visa holders exist, retaining foreign-born students would have a significant impact on many economies that are currently stagnant. Recent economic research reveals that employing these students locally could result in a boost of an estimated $3.2 billion in income in the 12-state region alone. Add approximately $123 million in aggregate state income taxes, the expansion of local firms, and the development of additional jobs, and the benefits are staggering.

With facts like these, it’s no wonder local employers are becoming frustrated with the restrictions of the current immigration system. Fortunately, steps can be taken to increase the number of F-1 visa holders who stay to work in Illinois. According to Giovanni Peri in an article published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, immigration reform that includes the following is an effective remedy to retain talent and enhance the global competitiveness of the U.S.

  • A provisional visa for graduates of STEM fields should be developed
  • Investor visas should be more accessible to F-1 visa holders
  • H-1B visas should be allocated to STEM graduates

Support Grows for H1B Changes

A business man, H1B immigration

As election day approaches, support for instituting changes to the H1B visa program is growing. Businesses, immigration lawyers, and politicians alike recognize the value of the program, and the skilled workers that these visas bring into the American economy.

2015 Was a Record Year for H1B Visas

233,000 individuals applied for H1B visas in 2015. This was the highest level on record. Even so, the US government mandated a cap of 65,000 visas per year, with a further 20,000 being reserved for individuals holding advanced degrees. From 2013 through 2015, the USCIS saw an 88% increase in the number of applicants for H1B visas.

Indian Complaints Get Washington’s Attention

The Indian government has voiced their concerns over recent fee changes directly to US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Indian workers have been severely impacted by the sharp increase to H1B visa fees that were instituted last December. These increased fees apply to companies with more than 50 employees who currently employ more than half of their employees on H1B visas. These firms would be required to pay at least $4,000 more per visa.

Indians represent nearly 70% of H1B applicants and the increase has made it harder for American companies to hire everything from computer programmers to data scientists. US business leaders argue that these fees are making it harder for them to hire the talent they need to drive American companies forward.

H1B Applicants Drive Innovation

73% of all H1B applications are for computer related positions including computer systems analysts, network administrators, systems administrators, computer programmers, software developers, etc. The remainder are largely comprised of accountants and auditors, management analysts, and financial analysts.

Even as the demand for H1B visas grows and more and more skilled individuals seek the help of immigration lawyers with their applications, some US legislators are seeking to restrict the programs even further. Recently, Representative Darrel Issa from California introduced legislation that would make it harder for US employers to hire H1B workers. Issa’s proposals would remove exemptions for US employers who do not advertise their positions to US workers first, and who do not pay H1B holders with a master’s degree at least $60,000 per year.

Under Issa’s proposal, employers would need to pay the employee at least $100,000 per year to qualify for an exemption. This sharp increase would make it very difficult for most employers to hire and pay for the labor they need.

Industry Leaders and Powerful Corporations Push for Immigration Reform

A national emblem of USA, Chicago immigration

Several industry leaders and powerful corporations throughout the United States have taken a stand in support of immigration reform to increase legal immigration and bring millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows. As they continue to push for the development of new visa programs, amnesty, and simpler routes to citizenship, these companies claim that comprehensive immigration reform will not only grow the American economy, but level the playing field for businesses throughout the United States as well.

Attracting and retaining the world’s most highly-skilled talent and creating the human capital necessary to fill workforce needs at all skill levels is vital to grow the U.S. economy and ensure America’s global competitiveness. Many countries have already rewritten their immigration policies to encourage productivity and innovation, and powerful companies and industry leaders here in America have been pleading for changes to our country’s own system for many years. In fact, in a letter sent to the United States House of Representatives in 2013, officials who represented more than 100 corporate interests throughout the United States demanded amnesty for aliens already residing in America, and asked for new visa programs to increase immigration.

While President Obama took steps to make some improvements to America’s failing immigration system, those changes weren’t nearly enough. Immigration reform continues to be a high-profile topic of debate- especially among the 2016 presidential candidates, and major corporate interests have no intention of backing off. Corporations that are advocating for immigration reform include those from a wide variety of high-tech industries that are in need of individuals with strong science, math, engineering and technology skills, but major companies in the hospitality, food services, construction and agriculture industries are pushing for change as well. A couple of the industry leaders pushing for immigration reform include:

  • Facebook: Mark Zuckerburg, the CEO of Facebook, is one high-profile advocate for the reform of immigration in the United States. He stresses the importance of creating an easier road for high-tech companies to employ workers with special skills and education in technology.
  • Yahoo! and Google: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was called upon by President Obama in 2013 to offer advice on immigration reform. She emphasizes the need for highly-skilled professionals to help create more jobs and grow the American economy. Google co-founder Sergey Brin claims immigrants are “a powerful force for entrepreneurship and innovation at every level”.

Homeland Security is expanding eligibility for I-601A provisional waiver

Green card and social security card
A social security id card and a permanent resident card

As of August 29, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expanded the eligibility of I-601A provisional waivers to include all eligible spouses and adult children of lawful permanent residents. Previously, only the spouses of US citizens and some children of US citizens qualified for the waiver.

Purpose of I-601A waiver

The I-601A waiver significantly reduces the amount of time lawful U.S. citizens must be separated from relatives and minimizes the difficulties involved when a foreign-born individual seeks lawful residency in the United States. Prior to I-601A waivers, these individuals had to remain in their current country until their status was decided. There are many relatives of U.S. citizens who qualify for permanent residency based on their relationship. However, some laws stipulate that these individuals must apply for residency from their home country at a U.S. consulate. If they are already in the United States, they must leave and apply via the method of consular processing. This creates a problem for many people because they may be barred from reentering the United States for as much as ten years. They must seek an unlawful presence waiver to return to the United States. The best immigration lawyers are familiar with the complex requirements of obtaining legal citizenship in the United States. Beginning in 2013, spouses and some children of U.S. Citizens could remain in the United States only if they could show leaving the country caused hardship to a U.S. citizen who was their spouse or parent.

Key changes to I-601A waivers

Prior to the recent expansion by DHS, only immediate family members of U.S. citizens were able to show that hardship. Under the expanded eligibility, spouses and children of legal permanent residents qualify for the I-601A waiver. The I-601A was previously available only to people who did not have any deportation orders against them. Now, people with final orders of removal, deportation, or exclusion can apply for the I-601A. when they have filed a Form I-212. Under the recent expansion of eligibility, there is no more cut off dates to apply. Under the old restrictions, some people already scheduled for interviews in their home country could not file for the I-601A. Some of the best immigration lawyers feel the recently expanded eligibility by DHS for I-601A improves the path to permanent residency and citizenship for many people.

Protectionist Immigration Policies Harm The U.S. Economy

An American Passport, immigration

As the rhetoric concerning immigration in the U.S. has become increasingly severe, politicians and the public are ignoring the harmful effects that protectionist immigration policies in the U.S. have on the economy in both Illinois and the rest of the nation. As the rest of the world has rebounded since the recession that happened in the late 2000s, the U.S. economy has improved more slowly. Part of the reason is that instituting severe limitations on the ability of businesses to hire skilled foreign workers for positions that they have difficulty filling has slowed their ability to grow. An immigration lawyer understands the issues that are caused by restrictive immigration policies and works to help businesses get visas for the foreign workers that they need.

Foreign Workers Do Not Take Away American Jobs

One of the ideas that is promoted by politicians is that highly skilled foreign nationals take jobs away from American workers. The flaw in this belief is the assumption that there are a set number of jobs in the country. The number of jobs that are available is fluid and depends on the ability of companies to grow and expand. When businesses have positions available for which they cannot find U.S. workers, foreign workers help those businesses to grow, increase profits and add more jobs in the process.

Immigrants Encourage Job Creation and Economic Growth

When foreign nationals invest money in new ventures in the U.S. and bring their talents here, it stimulates the economy. The strength of the U.S. in the long-term is somewhat dependent on highly skilled workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Many businesses in Chicago need more workers in these particular fields than there are available Americans who have the required education and skills. These businesses have depended on their ability to fill their employment needs with foreign workers who do have the needed skill set. Limits on employment visas and H-1B visas have hampered the economic recovery in the nation, slowing job creation and the flow of money needed to fuel the economy.

Contrary to misconceptions, foreign workers also do not drive down the wages of U.S. workers. Instead, highly skilled workers in the STEM professions tend to make as much or more than do American workers, encouraging wage increases for all in the field. An immigration lawyer may work to get approval for businesses so that they can secure the skilled workers that they need.