Because the immigration reform debate has been focusing more on legalization than on future immigration, companies that sponsor tech workers and those that are interested in promoting innovation are trying to bring more attention to the need for “high skill” workers. Given their tech savvy, they have organized a Virtual March on Washington, along with the Partnership for a New American Economy – Michael Bloomberg’s immigration reform effort.
To join or check it out, go to www.marchforinnovation.com.
As pointed out in their website and in a column in today’s Wall Street Journal (“The Virtual March on Washington for Immigration,” Information Age by L. Gordon Crovitz), the U.S. is now in competition for tech workers and entrepreneurs in particular, with Australia, Canada, Chile, U.K. and others changing their immigration laws to attract them.
Two points to consider:
- 1) Why are tech workers in demand? Some say it is to keep wages down. But if that was the criteria, companies could off-shore a lot of this work. From my experience, the reason is usually to find specific skills that are in demand or to allow someone who wants to capitalize on an innovation to remain here to do so. Many protections for U.S. workers – including wage requirements – are already in the law. In fact, most recently we have run up against having to pay foreign workers more than U.S. counterparts because of Dept. of Labor wage survey limitations.
- Should we prefer high skill workers over those immigrating for family reunification? We don’t have to. It is critical to make immigration of people with certain needed skill sets possible and not overly burdensome. It is also critical to re-unify families. The two groups are not mutually exclusive. This question assumes that we cannot increase the number of visas per year. While unlimited immigration is not possible, increasing the employment-based numbers does not require reducing family-based numbers.
Employment-based immigration is self-regulating to a large degree (when times are tough, employers don’t hire foreign workers; when things improve, they do). We should not be afraid to let the market work so long as U.S. labor protections are in place and also programs, such as those promoted by the Technology Association of Iowa, encourage U.S. students to study science, technology, engineering and math.
Also, some of the people we legalize will become STEM workers. Some people in the waiting lines for family-based visas will be STEM workers. But no doubt we will still need more ways for high-demand workers to immigrate to fill market needs or start businesses that will employ others.
It is important to help our Members of Congress understand the needs that currently exist in our labor market and in our families. Joining the Virtual March is one way to do this. Visiting with your representative or senator is another.