Immigration Issues in DC

Tej Dhawan of Startup City Des Moines and a cofounder of Startup Iowa passed along the following report from his recent visit to DC as part of the Greater Des Moines Partnership delegation:

There is an eerie consensus across the aisle in DC that our current immigration system is broken, in need of reform, and change is necessary for the long term economic growth.  There is little consensus on how such reform will be achieved, who will lead it, and what will eventually motivate Congress into action.

Human Capital, impacted by immigration, was one of the core topics of the Des Moines Partnership’s DC trip this spring and I am privileged in being able to join business and government leaders from our region on this trip.  I am certainly privileged to work with Lori Chesser from the Davis Brown Law firm and invited to a panel on immigration.

The panel, consisting of Rosemary Gutierrez and David Johns from Sen Harkin’s office, Kathy Neubel Kovarik from Sen Grassley’s office, Aaron Brickman from Department of Commerce, Ben Johnson from American Immigration Council, and moderated by Lori Chesser was attended by various members of the Des Moines community and focused significantly on answering questions from the audience and thus remaining very interactive.

There are three forms of legal immigration today – 1) marriage to a US citizen, 2) sponsorship by an employer, or 3) sponsorship by an American citizen family member.  Being involved in all three forms, I felt comfortable contributing my experience and need for policy changes and bills currently circulating in DC.  I am married to a natural born US citizen from Iowa,  have sponsored, on my previous company’s behalf, several H1b candidates from India, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam, many of who are taxpaying residents, green card holders, naturalized citizens and contributors to Iowa and the US economy.  I am also sponsoring my sister, a Malaysian citizen to the US.

What is broken and in need of fix are the second and third categories.  Whether it is the HR3012 bill that allows green cards to be issued from the available pool rather than be artificially limited, the proposed StartupVisa that allows for foreign entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the US when sponsored by an accredited US investor, the DREAM act  or others, several solutions exist and are available to Congress.

What I heard from many during this recent visit to DC was that many in Congress would rather wait for a comprehensive immigration reform.  Both Senators’ offices comments were consistent that they prefer comprehensive reform such that visas should not take jobs from US workers, college seats from native US students, be considered comprehensively and not piecemeal etc.

Though a desire for comprehensive reform is respectable, Congress hasn’t shown an ability to work together toward real reform in my voting life in the US.  Furthermore, careers in STEM fields continue to be underfilled by software developers, doctors and  engineers.  Companies large and small, represented in the audience for our forum, continue needing to offshore their work in absence of sufficient resources here.

As Jim Clifton so clearly pointed out in Coming Jobs War, there is a marked change underway worldwide.  Qualified technology workers are finding an ability to find careers overseas and no longer want to stand in line as second-class citizens in the US.  Recent news reports are listed net-immigration from Mexico even to be zero, resulting in shifts even in the agricultural economies of Texas, Florida and California.    People are finding opportunities elsewhere in the world, and if we are unable or unwilling to bring job-seekers here, our companies will be sending the jobs overseas.

My message to the congressional representatives and other members on the panel was clear –

  1. We can’t wait for comprehensive reform.  To stem the outflow of jobs, we must tweak our immigration policy through bills like the HR3012 that received significant support in the house (373-15) but remain stuck in the Senate.
  2. Small and new businesses are the job creators.  Startups, a subset of the new businesses, are the high growth leaders in wealth creation that leads to more job creators.  The StartupVisa, as introduced by Kerry and Luger in 2011 needs to be addressed in Congress.
  3. Our colleges and universities are global leaders in education and attract students from around the world.  As we graduate them and give them options to intern/train via OPT/CPT statutes, we should allow them the ability to apply for a green card and legal employment at the end of the practical training rather than subject them to 3-10 years of servitude via the H1b program.  These students represent a large community of individuals who are establishing strong ties to America – we need to grow through them.
  4. Our schools and colleges are not graduating needed numbers of STEM fields.  While we build that population up through K-12 systems over the next 20-30 years, we should make our universities and colleges attractive globally through a foreign student program as attractive as the one I used when entering this US in the 1980s.
  5. The DREAM Act proposes to give children of illegal immigrants a legal way to stay in the country.  Whether it is the original Dream act or the modified version by Senator Marco Rubio, the purpose is the same – keep and grow with those who love and cherish America.

We do not have time for comprehensive reform, or does Congress show any willingness to bridge the divide, specially in this election year and beyond.    If you have any doubts about our place in the world, pickup a copy of Jim Clifton’s Coming Jobs War or Thomas Friedman’s many tomes, including That Used to be Us.

Cross-posted: http://www.startupia.org/immigration-issues-revisited-in-dc/

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