Why immigration reform is right for society, economy

May 14th, 2014

Foreign-born workers help broaden tax base


Editor’s note: This article 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, 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 more than two decades.

The business community has kept up the fight for reform because it’s right for our so­ciety, for our economy, for our work force 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 common-sense 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 highly skilled workers, and award green cards to 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 immigrants tend to be very enterprising. We should allow them to 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), such as 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 two 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 aging popula­tion.

Finally, America’s legacy of being a 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 the public understands immigrants are an asset – not a threat. That’s why the public has largely coalesced around reform – some 70
percent of 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 highly skilled and en­trepreneurial visa reform, we must all get behind other common-sense fixes to our immigration system, including: · A lesser-skilled work visa program · Improved employment verification · Stronger border security · A pathway 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, faith community lead­ers, ethnic organizations and, of course,
technology.