America’s immigration system does not meet our needs and has not done so for years. A recent study found that reform measures like those featured in the bill just passed by the U.S. Senate would add $903 million to the North Carolina economy and create over 11,000 jobs – in the first year alone. I am hopeful that the U.S. House of Representatives can seize the opportunity that will lie before it and pass a workable immigration reform plan this year.
North Carolina has one of the best higher education systems in America, world-renowned colleges and universities that turn out thousands of highly skilled, job-ready graduates every year. But tragically, out-of-touch visa allocations frequently make it impossible for foreign-born North Carolina alums – including many with the science, technology, engineering and math training that economy-driving high-tech companies need – to stay here and put their talents to work for American companies. This is just one of the glaring inequities in our immigration system and one of the many valid arguments in favor of Congress passing immigration reform legislation.
Our immigration laws should also be revised to make it possible for more foreign-born college applicants to become part of the North Carolina educational system. I have seen case after case of applicants being turned away during the admissions process because of immigration issues when they could have made valuable contributions to our schools and, after graduation, to our economy.
I’m also a North Carolina farmer, and my experience in the agricultural industry has convinced me that we must tailor our visa allocation system to provide producers with the seasonal and temporary workers they need to bring in their crops.
In some ways this is very similar to the problems high-tech companies have in finding visas for the immigrant Ph.D.s and engineers they need to support their business goals. Our two industries may be very different, but our immigration problems are the same – we need the most capable people we can find, and where they were born should be secondary to their ability to help us grow, compete and create more jobs for all workers.
I most definitely do not endorse immigration reform plans that give illegal immigrants an advantage over people who have followed the rules or over American citizens for jobs. But the reform bill passed by the Senate makes some headway in avoiding those mistakes and puts forth a commonsense strategy that will better meet the needs of workers, employers, law enforcement personnel, and our economy. I am confident that House members can do the same in their legislation.
Of course, no immigration reform plan is worth considering that does not adequately address border security. The Senate plan added large numbers of enforcement personnel and significantly upgraded security infrastructure. The House should include similar provisions and also similarly support a strict employment verification system that reduces the incentive to illegally enter our country. If undocumented immigrants know they will not be able to find jobs without the proper paperwork, most of them simply will not come.
The basic elements of commonsense immigration policy, including strict border security, adequate visa allocations and employment verification were all successfully negotiated into the Senate plan. I believe the House can do the same, and I look forward to seeing the action it will take on this very important issue.
Frank Grainger of Cary is vice chairman
of the UNC Board of Governors.