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My view: Remove cap on employment visas

By Jason Chaffetz

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jason Chaffetz

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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One of the first commitments I made to voters in 2008 was to address immigration. At that time, I argued that we would never adequately address our illegal immigration problem until we fix legal immigration. With that in mind, I introduced HR3012, The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, which recently passed the House Judiciary Committee without a single member on either side of the aisle objecting.

Under the status quo, the total number of employment-based immigrant visas made available to natives of any single foreign country in a year cannot exceed 7 percent of the total number of such visas made available in that year.

While per-country limits make some limited sense in the area of family immigration, they make no sense in the context of employment-based immigration. American companies treat all highly skilled immigrants equally regardless of where they come from. Our immigration policy should do the same.

HR3012 creates a fair and equitable, "first-come, first-served" system. Under this system, U.S. companies will be able to focus on what they do best — hiring smart people to create products, services and jobs for Americans.

Per-country caps are the antithesis of the free market. Companies recruit employees based on their talent, not their country of origin. Hiring and keeping the best people, whether from America or from around the world is the primary objective of American companies. This bill will help employers meet that objective.

The per-country limits have created an untenable situation in which the majority of major U.S. technology companies' foreign workers are waiting many years for green cards while already working in the U.S. The uncertainty of such waits results in job shops, knowledge transfer, and off-shoring of American jobs.

The long wait for green cards creates a situation in which many of the most talented workers decide to forgo the U.S. economy, opting instead to build the economies of nations with whom we compete. These are well-compensated workers who might otherwise be happy to stay in America, invest in local communities and even start new companies that ultimately generate new American jobs.

Fears that these changes will lead to an influx of cheap foreign labor are unfounded. Two concerns in particular rely on the false assumption that the removal of these caps will have a negative impact on American workers.

The first concern applies to the removal of the per-country cap on employment-based visas. Some people argue this provision will displace American workers with cheaper foreign labor, which will not and cannot happen. Current law prohibits U.S. employers from hiring foreign workers to fill these jobs unless there are insufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available. This bill does not change that requirement, but it does encourage highly skilled immigrants who were educated in the U.S. to stay and help build our economy, rather than using the skills they learned here to aid our competitor nations.

The second criticism I hear applies to the provision that raises the family-based per-country cap from 7 percent to 15 percent. The fear seems to be that this change will result in an increase of unskilled foreign immigrants who will be a burden to our system.

To the contrary, those who benefit most under the family cap adjustment are the law-abiding workers who have demonstrated their respect for the rule of law by waiting in line for many years. An unmarried minor child in Mexico, for example, who is the son or daughter of U.S. citizens and will receive a green card in November of this year has been waiting in line since April 1993. That's an 18-and-a-half-year wait.

Rewarding those who are patiently waiting to come to this country legally will incentivize more people to enter our country through legal means.

This bill does not add a single new green card to the system. There's no trick or compromise involved. We are sending a message that we want people to come to America legally, and we are sending that message without massive comprehensive reforms. This is simple, straightforward and consistent with where I think most Republicans stand on the issue of immigration.

This bill admittedly does not attempt to address all of our immigration problems. But it is an important step that I hope will build momentum toward more significant policy changes in the future. I will continue to pursue commonsense solutions to help fix legal immigration in this country, and I remain committed to working with members from both sides of the aisle as I do so.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz represents the 3rd Congressional District of Utah.

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