February 26, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
President Donald Trump raised a few eyebrows during his State of the Union address when he said that he’d like to see immigrants enter the country legally in “the largest numbers ever.” It seemed an about-face for a commander-in-chief who has endorsed plans to limit legal immigration.
What’s changed? Part of it may be a realization that entrepreneurial immigrants help to create jobs and grow our economy – and their contributions are especially important when our economy is growing.
The latest jobs report is proof that economy is humming. In January, 304,000 jobs were added. Other studies have found that employers have been boosting employee pay in order to keep up with growing market demands. Additionally, African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates remain at historic lows. And just last summer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were more job openings in the U.S. than people looking for work.
Perhaps this is why Trump recently told members of his cabinet that one way to address U.S. worker shortage is to have “[new] people that are going to love our country and help our country.”
Here’s where Congress can step in. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would make it easier for high-skilled workers who are applying to become legal permanent residents to legally immigrate to the United States by eliminating an unnecessary and unfair policy that favors workers from one country over another.
The bill would remove per-country caps for employment-based green cards. In layman’s terms, this means doing away with the arcane policy that says that no more than 7 percent of employment-based green cards can be issued to citizens of any one country. A 2018 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report found that more than 306,000 Indians and 67,000 Chinese were waiting in line to legally immigrate to this country because of a backlog exacerbated by the country caps.
David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, says that the country caps mean that someone from India may need to wait close to a decade to receive a visa, while a prospective Chinese national hoping to legally work in the U.S. may only need to wait three years. Those looking to immigrate from some other countries might not need to wait at all.
This makes little sense as immigration policy and no sense as economic policy.
That’s why we see courageous collaboration across party and ideological lines to do away with the caps. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). It’s supported by the conservative Heritage Foundation and the progressive UnidosUS.
This one bill will not address other outstanding issues in our immigration system. Congress missed out on a golden opportunity to pair enhanced border security with a permanent solution for Dreamers protections during the recent budget negotiations, and Trump’s emergency declaration was the wrong way to respond to that failure. And additional changes are needed to improve our visa system to ensure that that it is transparent, efficient and easy to navigate.
But the only way to enact meaningful and permanent reforms that improve our immigration system is for lawmakers to put aside their differences and form the kind of coalition that supports the Lee-Harris bill.
Changing the way our country allocates visas to high-skilled immigrants who want to work legally in the United States would be a promising first step.
Israel Ortega is spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative.
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