Similar to a House hearing held earlier this year, a July 26, 2011 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security hearing pointed toward agreement on the need to enact fixes to the employment-based green card system.
Committee Chair Charles Schumer (D-NY) titled the hearing “The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform,” hoping to encourage such legislation to move forward in Congress. The hearing contained a remarkable amount of economic data and arguments in favor of liberalizing U.S. immigration laws, particularly in favor of allowing in more highly skilled immigrants.
Robert Greifeld, CEO of the NASDAQ OMX Group, testified, “Our world view must change to recognize that employers no longer have to locate jobs and workers because of physical capital requirements. Human capital is now highly mobile. The work product of STEM and other knowledge workers is just a plane ticket or an internet connection away.” He said NASDAQ supported “stapling” a green card to graduates of U.S. universities with a science, technology, engineering or math degree, and also support establishing a new visa for entrepreneurs.
Brad Smith, general counsel and senior vice president, legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, noted the company had thousands of job openings for highly skilled positions. He also cited a 2010 University of Washington Economic Policy Research Center study that found Microsoft’s hiring of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals combined to create a “multiplier effect” creating 267,611 jobs in 2008 in Washington. “Through this multiplier effect, every job at Microsoft supported 5.81 jobs elsewhere in the state economy.”
Compelling Testimony on Green Card Backlog
One of the best things a Congressional hearing can do is put a human face on a problem. Dr. Puneet S. Arora, born in India and now a practicing physician in Los Angeles, CA, testified at the hearing on behalf of the organization Immigration Voice. Dr. Arora said though he had lived and worked in America for 15 years – and has two U.S. citizen children – he does not have permanent residency. He explained that due to the low annual quota for employment-based green cards combined with the per country limit, which affects potential Indian immigrants the most, he has been waiting years for permanent residence. In fact, he estimated it might be an additional 8 years of waiting before he could receive a green card.
The Old and the New
Hearings are often a way to gauge the views of members of Congress, particularly new ones. We have not heard much about their views on high skill immigration from either Senator Al Franken (D-MN) or Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). By their questions and comments it appeared both are sympathetic to high skill immigration, particularly the plight of long-term green card holders. Senator Franken engaged in a long discussion with Dr. Arora, praising him for his previous work as a physician in Minnesota.
Veteran Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) were less sympathetic. Senator Grassley said in a statement, “As part of the solution to America’s immigration problem, some policy makers have proposed the idea of giving immigrants a green card upon graduation . . . While it is important to keep the best and the brightest, getting a degree from a U.S. institution should not equate to a fast track to citizenship for all. Should this happen, the demand for enrollment in U.S. universities by international students would only increase and further erode the opportunities for American students.” He also discussed his efforts to encourage U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to root out fraud in H-1B and L-1 visas.
Senator Sessions scolded supporters of business immigration on the panel, saying they should not have supported comprehensive immigration reform legislation back in 2007. Sessions said he favored a point system similar to Canada’s. Under a point system, there would be no employer sponsorship and most family immigration categories would be eliminated. Instead, the government would set a maximum number of immigrants allowed in during a given year and award permanent residence only to those who achieve a specific number of points. The points would be determined based on characteristics such as age and education level.
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said that a point system would take power away from individual employers to hire and sponsor the foreign-born employees they think are best and instead turn those decisions over to a bureaucratic government body. As a conservative Republican who often expresses skepticism of the federal government’s ability, Sessions seemed to understand the criticism, though did not appear to change his mind.
It appears the case was made that there is greater consensus on moving forward with reforms on employment-based green cards than on H-1B temporary visas. In fact, one of the risks for employers remains that efforts to liberalize green card quotas will be met by attempts to restrict temporary visas, such as H-1B and L-1. In addition, there are those who oppose narrow fixes to the immigration system, viewing smaller bills as a possible drain on efforts to achieve a broad comprehensive approach that deals with illegal immigration as well. These types of competing interests continue to make immigration reform a challenging proposition.