US immigration advocates and the head of a House subcommittee have argued that persistent US visa restrictions and an outdated system are forcing foreign workers to go to other countries, causing a brain drain in America. Others at a recent hearing said workers on H1B, L1 and other employment-based visas are competing, not helping, the US workforce.
Democratic representative for California and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, Zoe Lofgren, said: “If we want to compete in an increasingly global and technology-driven marketplace, we have to do what we failed to do for the past 30 years, which is to reform our immigration system to respond to the needs of our country.”
Lofgren’s comments came during a hearing on America’s ability to compete in the global economy.
US visa backlog
The CEO of Technology Councils of North America, Jennifer Young, claimed that outdated US immigration policies have resulted in US visa backlogs and more cumbersome processes for US green card and citizenship applications, while often forcing international students and skilled immigrant workers to leave for other countries with less restrictive immigration laws.
Young, who testified at the subcommittee’s hearing, said: “What we are seeing right now is that instead of going back to their home country, they choose to go to Canada because they have specifically targeted tech talents and made it easier and faster than the United States.”
According to Lofgren, Toronto’s tech economy is booming at a rate faster than Silicon Valley because Canada’s immigration policies build flexibility and stability, creating the right environment for attracting highly skilled immigrants, including those who America won’t accommodate.
Under the Trump administration, several US immigration policy changes were introduced across several US visa categories. The former US President cited ‘visa application fraud’ as the reason for coming down hard on immigration routes.
In April 2020, Trump issued an executive order to stop the entry of immigrant workers seeking permanent residency in the US. The order stated: “This policy will protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs.”
The policy was introduced at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was causing US unemployment levels to soar.
Prior to Trump leaving office, he took particular aim at the H1B visa scheme and sought to end the program’s lottery system and replace it with a system based on salary levels. Those with higher salaries would have been given preferential treatment under the Trump policy.
Fraud and exploitation
Republican lawmakers are currently calling for a review of the existing US employment visa system in an effort to stamp out fraud and exploitation, which they claim ‘hurts American workers’.
Republican representative for California, Tom McClintock – who is the most senior Republican on the subcommittee – said that immigrant workers who abuse US visa programs ‘hurt pay and benefits for local American workers and other foreign workers because the competition drives down wages’.
Professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C, Ronil Hira, agreed with McClintock’s view and called for greater scrutiny of US visa applications.
Hira said: “The majority of H1B workers are competing with, rather than complementing, the US workforce. Their hiring and employment are adversely affecting the wages and working conditions of US workers.”
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