H-1B visas allow foreigners, who have an undergraduate degree or higher, to work in the United States. Currently only 65,000 visas can be issued each year; a number which is far too low. Yet, when President Obama talks about ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ the discussion is anything but comprehensive.
President Obama has raised the specter of adding another hot button issue into the national debate. At the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast the President said that he is “…committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform…” but he was silent on the matter of legal immigration reform.
Then, last Thursday, the President met with members of Congress to discuss immigration issues. The political attention is rightly focused on illegal immigration, but if the administration ignores problems that exist within the legal immigration system, can its reform package really be considered comprehensive?
Skilled foreign workers, with high levels of education, contribute greatly to America’s economy. Currently only 65,000 visas are issued down from 195,000 in 2001. While this year’s applications have slowed somewhat as a result of the current recession, the limit is expected to be reached shortly. A 2007 Congressional Research Service report showed that the 65,000 visa cap was met the first day it opened in 2005 and the 2006 cap was hit before FY06 began. The 2008 cap was met during the first two days of availability. A Heritage study demonstrated that these workers are highly paid, and pay a significant amount in taxes. Raising the cap to 195,000 would increase payroll tax and income tax revenues by $2 billion per year. Given recent levels of federal spending and the current state of the economy, increased tax revenue, and more importantly increased economic growth, would be good for the United States.
Too often H-1B visa holders are caricatured as ‘taking American jobs’ when the opposite is often true. The value of an H-1B worker is that they contribute a unique skill set, and can often create jobs by creating value and allowing for businesses to expand. For instance, hiring an H-1B worker who writes software code may cause an American company to hire more Americans because it has an entirely new product to offer. Indeed, many of America’s most innovative technology companies already rely heavily on high skilled immigrant workers. Increasing the H-1B cap will help these companies remain competitive in the world marketplace.
During the Presidential campaign WIRED magazine gave Obama a ‘C’ on the issue of H-1B visas. At this time, though, the Administration has been silent on the H-1B issue. While she was Governor, Janet Napolitano was one of 13 governors to sign a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to increase the cap. Now, as DHS Secretary she has the ability to act on this issue. The Obama Administration should live up to its promise and enact truly comprehensive immigration reform.