Ben Margot, AP
In this Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, photo, Leo Wang packs a suitcase at his home in San Jose, Calif. Wang has found himself trapped in an obstacle course regarding H-1B work visas for foreigners. His visa denied and his days in the United States numbered, Wang is looking for work outside the country. “I still believe in the American dream,” he says. “It’s just that I personally have to pursue it somewhere else.”

Virtually everyone on both sides of the political aisle agrees that America’s immigration and border security policies are badly broken and need major reform.

However, with entrenched partisan disagreements on immigration policy, comprehensive reform is very difficult in Washington’s divided and poisoned political environment.

Still, there is one relatively small, but very important, element of immigration policy – H-1B visas for highly skilled workers — on which reasonable people in both political parties ought to agree.

Fixing the H-1B problem would be fairly simple and would be a significant boost to Utah’s and America’s economies and international competitiveness. Improving H-1B visa policy is badly needed for the technology industry to find qualified workers. No downside exists to fixing this problem, and doing so would show that Congress can solve problems and pass important legislation even with divided government.

The Hatch Center (the policy arm of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation), along with FWD.us, recently released a study showing that modernizing the H-1B visa program would “grow the economy, foster innovation, and create new American jobs.” The report encourages commonsense, bipartisan changes to our high-skilled immigration policy.

Currently, only 65,000 H-1B visas are available annually, with another 20,000 reserved for individuals who hold advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. The study notes that for the last six years all available visas have been claimed within one week of the application period opening. The demand by businesses far exceeds the supply.

“The United States is the innovation capital of the world, with a talented workforce that is second to none,” said Hatch. “But unless we fix our broken immigration system, our workforce — and our economy — will fall behind. To maintain our global economic competitiveness, we must continue to attract the best and brightest in the world.”

The report notes that the nation’s high-skilled immigration system has not been updated for more than 25 years, despite a major shift to a high-tech economy needing dramatically higher numbers of skilled workers. More than 7.5 million available jobs are currently unfilled in the United States.

FWD.us and the Hatch Center found that, “America’s ability to attract, educate, and employ the world’s greatest talent has created a workforce pipeline that has fueled our economy, and we must continue to replenish that pipeline with fresh ideas and skill-sets from around the globe.”

Utah has a major stake in this matter because our growing technology sector is so important to our economy. A recent report by Zions Bank economist Robert Spendlove noted that at 4.3 percent annual growth (nearly double the national average), Utah’s technology employment growth once again tops the nation.

This robust growth demands significant numbers of qualified technology workers, which are in high demand and short supply. Utah’s technology boom could easily be impeded by a shortage of skilled workers.

The Hatch Center report suggested these policy principles to recruit and retain global talent:

1) Increase opportunities for high-skilled workers to contribute to the U.S. economy.

2) Tie H-1B visa caps to employer demand to ensure American employers are not arbitrarily restricted access to the global talent pool.

3) Increase the number of employment-based visas and provide realistic alternatives to H-1B for employers who want to sponsor skilled immigrants for permanent residency.

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4) Keep American-trained talent in the U.S. by allowing for an expedited path to citizenship for international student graduates and entrepreneurs that want to work and create jobs in the U.S.

5) Prioritize predictability and timeliness for employers and employees.

6) Strengthen protections for foreign-born and American workers, and penalize bad actors.

I hope all members of Utah’s congressional delegation will support commonsense H-1B visa reform, thereby keeping Utah’s tech sector vibrant and Utah’s overall economy strong.