by Rachael Brovard
In a rare moment of bipartisanship last week, Democrats and Republicans joined hands to make a small, but fundamental change to our immigration system. Not to provide critically needed updates or wholesale reforms, but, rather, to toss a sop to the billionaires of Big Tech.
Thanks to furious lobbying from Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett Packard, Equifax, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, IBM, Cisco, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Eric Schmidt of Google’s group FWD.us, among others, the House this week passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019.
The bill, which was supported by 140 Republicans and 224 Democrats, removes the per-country cap for employment-based immigration visas. In other words, it makes it easier for the tech giants and billionaires of Silicon Valley to hire cheap foreign labor over highly skilled Americans.
Current law requires that no country receive more than 7 percent of the employment-based green cards issued each year. This ensures that employment-based visas are limited to a global pool of talent in a wide variety of occupational sectors – and prevents one or two countries from dominating the distribution.
The practical effect is that individuals from countries with high demand for U.S. green cards – primarily China and India – can end up waiting years for their turn.
The wait is exacerbated by the fact that chain migration (which allows legal permanent residents to sponsor immediate and extended family members) accounts for about half of each country’s numerical limit being used each year. According to Department of Homeland Security data, in 2017 the family and employment-based country cap amounted to 25,620 slots from any single country.
H.R. 1044 seeks to address this by scrapping the caps for employment visas and raising the cap for family visas to 15 percent, without changing the total number of green cards available.
Tech companies may be celebrating that they can now more easily lay off American workers (though not before making sure they train their cheaper, foreign replacements), but there are other serious problems with this approach.
First among them is this is exactly the opposite of the goals President Trump touted during his campaign. “America First” requires a deference to domestic employment. The jobs in question are not the low-skilled labor jobs that Americans supposedly “will not do.”
Rather, these are the highly skilled tech jobs that current students are being told they can obtain, if only they take advantage of government programs promoting degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Why is one area of the government funding domestic STEM degrees with the promise of tech jobs, while the other is making it easier to undermine those positions with foreign labor?
Second, this change to our immigration system is hardly taken up on behalf of the interests of all Americans. The bill is a sop to Big Tech. Consider that Silicon Valley and their associates are those waiting for the green cards from China and India – with India getting about 25 percent of all the professional employment green cards each year.
Under the provisions of this bill, India would get more than 90 percent of the professional employment green cards, for at least the next 10 years. In other words, green cards would be unavailable to individuals from all other parts of the world, in every other occupation, for at least a decade. This is hardly fair, nor is it reflective of the American approach of welcoming immigrants from everywhere – not just one or two countries.
Finally, this entire debate is reflective of the blissful ignorance Congress chooses to live in when it comes to immigration. The entire system—how we handle both legal and illegal immigration – is in dire need of reform. But rather than focus on these major issues, Congress is content to pass tiny, rifle shot approaches that make small tweaks while doing nothing to solve the bigger issue, and in truth, they only complicate it.
This is all the more frustrating considering that the Trump administration has proposed a substantive, merit-based reform system that, if adopted, would eliminate the need for a per country cap system altogether – and, as Jessica Vaughan at the Center for Immigration Studies has put it, “would not reward the exploitative employers who thrive on the existing system.”
But all of this has not stopped the House of Representatives from stupidly patting themselves on the back for the bill’s passage, despite how wildly out of touch it makes them look.
This is the swamp President Trump promised to drain – where Big Tech can shell out dump trucks of money to make the immigration system work for them, but where the American people have no one who seems interested in making it work for us.
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Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters.
Photo “Software Engineers” by Sylvain Kalache CC2.0.