On June 11, 2012, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that, after only ten short weeks of accepting applications, it had reached the Fiscal Year 2013 cap on congressionally mandated H-1B work visas. This came as a surprise to many, considering it took six months to reach the cap for Fiscal Year 2012 and more than eight months for Fiscal Year 2011. The fact that this year’s cap was reached so quickly is a positive indicator for our economy, but it is also a stark reminder that, as a country, we continue to lose ground as a leader in innovation by denying opportunities to skilled workers, specifically those with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees.
While the cap on H-1B visas is frequently discussed as a barrier to recruiting highly skilled talent, it’s less known that there’s also a statutory cap combined with a “per-country cap,” on employment-based green cards. At Qualcomm, the vast majority of employees who come to work on a temporary visa apply for green cards because they intend to remain in the United States permanently. We work hard as an employer to make this happen as quickly as possible. The sooner employees can get green cards, the better their lives become as they’re able to plan for their futures in the United States and, we hope, continue working for Qualcomm.
That’s where the per-country cap comes in. Currently, no more than 7% of the 140,000 employment based green cards may be allocated to one country. This has placed green card applicants from highly populous countries, such as India and China, at a disadvantage, and a backlog has developed. Today, a visa holder from India or China will have to wait 10 years or more to obtain a green card. This is clearly a problem, and can be a disincentive for people to consider employment in the U.S. in the first place.
In order to help foster innovation, and ultimately long-term job growth, the House of Representatives passed the "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act" (H.R. 3012) with an astounding 389 yea votes in October of 2011. This bill would eliminate the per-country restrictions, but would not change the overall cap. The bill has yet to be passed by the Senate.
According to Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), because of our current system, “many of the most talented workers decide to forgo the U.S. economy, opting instead to build the economies of nations with whom we compete.”
Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) agrees. "This makes no sense and has resulted in decades-long backlogs for nationals from India, as well as China, and it makes it impossible for certain U.S. employers to attract and retain certain essential workers they need to help keep America competitive," (Economic Times, November 30, 2011) said Cohen.
By eliminating per-country restrictions, Congress could help companies like Qualcomm attract talented people, foster continued growth and, ultimately, create new jobs. It is imperative that the U.S. retain these highly skilled individuals to prevent our competitors from surpassing us in economic and technological innovations, especially when the principal foundations of these ideas are born from educations received by foreign students attending U.S. universities. If we have the tools to educate, we should utilize the results. This bill, if passed, would help us to do so.
In the next few weeks, the Senate is expected to consider the "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act." At a time when growing our economy and remaining competitive in the global marketplace is of utmost importance, we should be encouraging highly skilled people to remain in the United States rather than work for our competitors overseas. This legislation will be critical for the U.S. to keep and attract the best and brightest minds, which will in turn fuel growth and innovation here at home.