Chance for immigration reform must be exploited


The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held its first meeting of the 113th Congress on Tuesday, a meeting that revealed a broad consensus in making America more accommodating to highly skilled immigrants. While a comprehensive solution on the status of the millions of undocumented immigrants seems more difficult to achieve, immigration policy can be tweaked in smaller ways, fairly quickly, and to America’s benefit.

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., opened Tuesday’s hearing with a startling figure: “While America selects about 12 percent of our legal immigrants on the basis of their education and skills,” Goodlatte said, “the other main immigrant-receiving countries of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada each select over 60 percent of their immigrants on this basis.”

Translation: Other Western countries are doing a better job of attracting the skilled immigrants who benefit those countries. America is stuck with whoever washes up on its shores or crosses its borders or navigates enough red tape. What skills they bring, what value they’d add to our struggling economy, is a secondary consideration at best.

Every year, thousands of immigrants graduate American colleges and universities with advanced degrees in science and mathematics. And every year, we send a good deal of those recent graduates home, degree in hand, to build businesses and hire workers back home — or to Australia, the U.K. or Canada. It makes no sense.

This has to change. As Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said, “Immigrants are the secret sauce that makes America great.” Several members echoed that America is a nation of immigrants. But they need not all be the “tired and the poor” the Statue of Liberty refers to. They can be the skilled and the wealthy, too.

Lofgren, in the last Congress, sponsored the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012, better known as the STEM Act. The bill would make up to 50,000 visas available annually to job offer-holding immigrants who’ve studied science, technology, engineering and mathematics and graduated from American colleges and universities.

One addition we’d make to any version passed in this Congress is accommodating would-be entrepreneurs, too.

Another piece of low-hanging fruit would be strengthening America’s seasonal guest worker program. Many other countries have done it and successfully maintained the distinction between guest workers and path-to-citizenship resident aliens.

Programs slowed during the George W. Bush administration when the government decided to enforce a hard cap of 66,000 nonfarm temporary workers; thousands more had been allowed in annually prior to 2007, and returning workers were exempt from the cap.

Allowing the cap to float with the needs of the economy would better serve America’s employers and remove an incentive for foreign workers to illegally enter the country. The bipartisan immigration compromise provides for guest worker visas; so far President Barack Obama has not included them in his plan, due to opposition from labor unions.

Washington seems to be in the mood to compromise on immigration. Allowing more high skilled and temporary workers into the country is a good starting point for a comprehensive plan that would ultimately figure out what to do with the 10 million-plus undocumented immigrants already in America.

Obviously, a route to legal status must be found; rounding up and deporting 10 million people is not going to happen.

Immigration reform should not be one of Washington’s irresolvable issues. The fact that senators from both parties have been able to come together on a shared proposal is a good sign that this matter can be dealt with, at last, in a way that works best for America and its economy.

From the Detroit News

 

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