I work in the software industry. Some of my co-workers are immigrants.
There are some people who are anti-immigration, or who would prefer that American companies hire Americans first. I won’t argue for or against those sentiments here. What I can say, is that I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the years, and it is always difficult to find great talent. That means that technology companies are looking for great people wherever we can find them — even when it means the added hassle and expense of hiring from outside the country.
The immigrants I work with are fantastic additions to our society. They work hard. They are exceptionally intelligent. They make a lot of money, and therefore, they pay a lot of taxes. They often bring highly capable spouses with them. They integrate their children into our daycares and our public schools. They are excellent English speakers, and they all tell me how much they love our friendly society, and how lucky we are to have a government that isn’t based on bribery and police misconduct.
Frankly, they remind me how good we still have it here in America, and how our rich history of dreamers looking for new opportunity has made America such a fantastic place.
Why then, does our government treat these folks so badly?
Some of my co-workers are here on H1-B skilled work visas. The H1-B program is nearly 25 years old; it was designed to allow educated professionals in specific fields (like computer technology) into the country on a temporary basis. The point of the program was to help keep US industry competitive, and to enrich the quality of our labor force by importing the best and brightest from around the rest of the world.
Each year there are a fixed number of H1-B visas issued, and they expire after only a few years.
It is very frustrating for me to hear about a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, when there is doubt and anxiety about that path for some of my talented, dedicated, law-abiding co-workers.
If my H1-B co-workers want to be able to keep themselves and their families in the US, they need to apply for permanent residency, often called a “green card”. When the H1-B program was first started, decisions on applications for resident alien status were made within a year or two — prior to the H1-B visa expiring. Now, the system is so backlogged that multiple H1-B extensions are required, and there are priority numbers and special queues H1-B holders must acquire to keep themselves “alive” in the green card process. There are quotas in place, depending on which country you are coming from.
One ramification of this is that my company has special immigration lawyers that attempt to guide my co-workers through the legal maze of staying in the country. My immigrant co-workers are people who are trying to establish roots, raise children, contribute to our society, and they have a huge amount of uncertainty ahead of them. If they are unable to acquire a permanent resident visa in time, by law, they must leave the country.
One would think that it would be in the best interests of America to make it easy for the best and brightest from the rest of the world to come here and stay here.
Instead, in addition to the anxiety about possibly being kicked out some day, my co-workers are hassled with even more immigration nonsense while they are waiting to learn their fate. A friend of mine was denied re-entry into the US for over a month when he went on vacation. Another co-worker of mine has to visit the Canadian border several times a year to do paperwork. As much as my co-workers love America and most of our Government, they have nothing positive to say about their dealings with government immigration!
There are politicians who would like to improve the situation for H1-B and other skilled work visa holders. Our own Congressman Cramer has met with immigrant employees at my company, both to hear about their frustrations and to explain what’s happening in Washington to them.
According to Congressman Cramer, the Republicans would like to address specific gaps in areas like H1-B and other focused areas of immigration hardship. This sounds credible, since there is a lot of industry support for programs like H1-B, and Republicans tend to have a pragmatic ear pointed at business interests.
However, the Congressman says that the Democrats refuse to allow any piecemeal fixes or changes, so that they have leverage to demand what they are calling “comprehensive” immigration reform.
In other words, the Democrats are holding the futures of my co-workers hostage to get some kind of political bargaining power.
When Democrats tell you they care about diversity, or about people, or about our economy, or about creating jobs in America, remember one thing: we have thousands of immigrants who are already here, who follow the law, who are raising families, who integrate into our society, and who improve our communities, businesses, and economy.
All we have to do for them is get out of their way.
If the Democrats can’t even do that, why should we trust them to handle any other immigration issues?