Apr 24, 2014 - 6:00pm

Why Immigration Reform is the Right Thing for Our Society and Economy

Executive Vice President
President, Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation

This post is based on a speech given by David Chavern, President of the U.S. Chamber’s Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation, at an # iCodeImmigration event in San Francisco, California hosted by the Partnership for a New American Economy and FWD.us.

Immigration reform is the top public policy priority for the tech community—and it’s been a leading issue at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for over two decades.

The business community has kept up the fight for reform because it’s the right thing for our society, for our economy, for our workforce, and for businesses of every size and sector.

The brightest talent and the hardest workers from around the globe want to come to America because they believe it is still the land of opportunity. We can prove them right by welcoming them—and putting their skills, energy, and ideas to work in our economy, while allowing them to pursue big dreams and new opportunities.

In order to welcome them, we must adopt commonsense reforms across our immigration system. Doing so will benefit all of us.

Immigration reform will help us attract and retain high-skilled workers to fuel innovation and sustain vital parts of our economy, like the technology sector.

Under our current system, only 85,000 visas for high-skilled foreign born workers are made available every year.

Earlier this month, when the federal government began accepting applications for H-1B visas for next year, slots filled up in less than a week—and who ends up getting those visas will be determined by lottery.

That’s no way to win in the global race for talent.

We need to raise the caps for high-skilled workers, and award green cards to immigrant students who have earned advanced STEM degrees at U.S. colleges and universities.

Immigration reform will help us attract global entrepreneurial talent as well. Studies show that immigrants tend to be very enterprising. We should allow them start their ventures here in the United States—not somewhere else.

Immigration reform will also help us address worker shortages, not only in high-skilled jobs, but also in lesser-skilled industries (those jobs requiring less than a bachelor’s degree), like home heath care, landscaping, and hospitality.

Allowing foreign workers of every skill level to contribute to our economy will help broaden the tax base and address our demographic realities. Our senior population is exploding, while our birth rate is falling. By 2035 there will be roughly 2 workers for every retiree—compared with 16 workers per retiree in 1950. The more workers we have paying into the system, the better we’ll be able to support our ageing population.

Finally, America’s legacy of being an open and welcoming society will be preserved through immigration reform. That’s the very essence of who we are and where we came from.

I think part of the reason we’ve made so much more progress on immigration reform this time than in past years is that the public understands that immigrants are an asset—not a threat. That’s why the public has largely coalesced around reform—some 70% voters support it.

I must stress that every element of reform must be important to all of us—not only because broad reform is what the system and our economy need, but broad reform is the only way we’re ever going to get this done.

In order to get high-skilled and entrepreneurial visa reform, we must all get behind other commonsense fixes to our immigration system, including:

  • A lesser-skilled work visa program;
  • Improved employment verification;
  • Stronger border security;
  • And a pathway out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country.

That doesn’t mean that the only way Congress can move reform legislation is through a single, sweeping bill. If the House of Representatives wants to take up the pieces individually, we’ll get behind the good proposals that will ultimately modernize and improve our system.

The U.S. Chamber has helped to build a powerful coalition including business, law enforcement, leaders from the faith community, ethnic organizations—and of course, tech. Our efforts have brought us closer than ever to achieving immigration reform. Taking inspiration from Meb Keflezighi, an immigrant from Eritrea and the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 30 years, we’ll continue working to push this across the finish line.

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