Immigration Hurdles vs. Business Needs31 Aug 2010
Many businesses are reporting difficulties in hiring the foreign workers they need to grow, even to maintain their day-to-day operations. The problem affects a wide variety of industries, but has been particularly onerous for employers in the high-tech and agricultural sectors, as a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek points out. (See Why It’s Getting Harder to Hire Foreign Workers, by Nick Leiber, Bloomberg Businessweek, 26.Aug.2010.) According to Bloomberg Businessweek, both sectors are highly dependent on temporary foreign workers, and both have faced increasing hurdles as government tightens the availability of visas for H1B professionals, H2B seasonal workers, and H2A agricultural workers alike. Citing government data, Businessweek reports that H2B visa issuances have dropped 52 percent compared to last year, while H2A visas dropped by 9 percent. Meanwhile, as reported on MurthyDotCom, the number of H1B visa cases filed under the 2010 caps – both the regular cap and the advanced-degree cap – are running at slightly over half of the available visas.
Representatives of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) told Bloomberg Businessweek that they aren’t cracking down on employers, although business advocates are not so sure about that, citing economic and political pressures that they believe have led federal immigration authorities to restrict the availability of temporary worker visas. As the article points out, small businesses are especially hard hit when it becomes more difficult to hire foreign workers: they lack the resources to deal with a more complicated, more costly visa process for hiring foreign workers, but can’t afford to set up shop overseas, either, due to the sheer expense.
This is especially worrisome to the high-tech sector, as FastCompany.com warned in a recent article, reporting some Cassandra-like comments made by Intel CEO Paul Ortellini at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum. “Our research centers were without peer. No country was more attractive for start-up capital…We seemed a generation ahead of the rest of the world information technology. That simply is no longer the case.” (See America’s Looming Tech Crunch: Blame Venture Capital, Immigration Law, by Kit Eaton, FastCompany.com, 26.Aug.2010.) According to FastCompany – a leading publication in the tech world – Intel’s Ortellini is concerned that the regulatory deck is increasingly stacked against the tech industry, especially the startup companies that have been the cradle of technological innovation. U.S. companies lack the financial and tax incentives to make them sufficiently attractive to investors who can shop around for better prospects elsewhere, Ortellini suggested. The immigration system is also to blame, the FastCompany article says, because “the U.S. is particularly hostile to foreign nationals who want to study and then work here,” and “the recent fiascos and political tussles over H1B visas is a classic example of this, and demonstrates that there’s little intention to change the status quo.”
Instead of broad-based immigration reform that might have addressed these problems, Congress recently passed a stopgap measure designed to tighten border enforcement, perhaps in the hopes that this would clear the way for a more comprehensive legislative solution to our nation’s immigration problems. As MurthyDotCom reported recently, the border-tightening measures came at a heavy cost to H1B and L-1 applicants, and their employers, who now must pay a steep surcharge – $2,000 and $2,250, respectively – to file for an employment-based visa. (See: USCIS Addresses H1B and L-1 Fee Increases, MurthyDotCom, 19.Aug.2010.)
According to Bloomberg.com, this fee increase is one of several factors aggravating an already difficult situation for talented foreign students who want to stay in the United States after graduation, even those with degrees in the high-demand fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. (See Economy, New Rules Toughen U.S. Job-Hunt for Foreign Students, by Patricia Laya, Bloomberg.com, 27.Aug. 2010.)
In the past, the article notes, foreign students had an easier time staying on after graduation, when the H1B program allowed 195,000 visas per year – three times the current cap of 65,000 – during a temporary increase in the cap level, from 2001 to 2003. The H1B cap has not budged since then, despite lobbying by tech industry luminaries like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who went to Capitol Hill in 2008 to urge lawmakers to raise the cap, as Bloomberg.com reports. Add to that a troubled economy, and provisions of the 2009 stimulus bill that restrict recipients of TARP and related aid programs from hiring H1B workers, and you have a situation guaranteed to build up the high-tech economies of the countries whose best and brightest used to come to us. Let’s hope that Congress will return to this issue once the November mid-term elections are over.