Immigration has long been our country’s greatest competitive advantage in a global economy. As the owner of a start-up business in the Triangle, I often had the chance to interact with students, tech professionals and brilliant entrepreneurs from all over the world who came to North Carolina to help fuel our academic institutions and bolster our economy.
As the world economy shifts toward a greater demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics educated professionals and high-skilled workers in specialized roles, it becomes more important than ever that our country allows for tools to supplement our work force. While border security is a topic of great concern these days, it is important to understand that an immigration system that keeps us safe, protects American jobs and still provides American universities and firms the ability to recruit the best and brightest immigrants is possible.
When highly skilled immigrants move to the United States, often with their families in tow, they tend to stay. Many start businesses that grow local economies and create jobs in our communities. We do ourselves a disservice by making it harder for these individuals to come and make a life here. Our goal should be to actively recruit them to North Carolina, so that we may add their skills to our collective.
Competition is only growing, and while countries like India and China may always outpace us in terms of sheer man-power, it is our welcoming of the world’s best that keeps us ahead and at the cutting-edge of research and innovation. Diversity and commitment to recruiting the very best is what our schools and businesses strive for and what needs to be replicated across the rest of the country. We cannot afford to lose ground in the global race for talent.
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There are three main avenues for achieving this: make green cards easier to obtain, create a new category of visas to encourage the best foreign-born entrepreneurs and innovators to start businesses in the United States and reform and expand the nation’s H-1B visa program, which focuses on high-skilled foreign professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Recently, this H-1B program has fallen into disarray given its extremely low cap on visas issued annually despite the ever-increasing demand from American employers – in effect the program has become a lottery for applicants and subject to abuse by the largest multi-national firms that can flood the program with their application requests. Raising the 85,000 yearly cap would be a start and would help to reduce abuses in the system.
As a consequence of the outdated and archaic immigration system – unchanged in any significant way since the early 1990’s – international entrepreneurs are often left frustrated by delays, which has only been further compounded by the increase of anti-immigrant sentiments in the national dialogue of late.
Nevertheless, the United States remains the pinnacle of opportunity for talented immigrants – as we have always been and will remain. But right now, it is up to Congress to make sure that we continue to compete in the 21st century and continue to attract the very best to our schools and companies.
It is time for Congress to act. We must continue to strengthen our labor force with the world’s best in order to compete on a global scale. It is what is best for all sectors of our economy. Congress must stop stalling and find a way to make meaningful, bi-partisan reforms to a broken immigration system.
Patrick Mateer is CEO and founder of Seal the Seasons, Inc. in Chapel Hill.
BACKGROUND ON H-1B
H-1B visas are non-immigrant visas that allow US companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, medicine, etc.
H-1B Specialty Occupations must meet one of the following criteria to qualify as a specialty occupation:
- Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for the position
- The degree requirement for the job is common to the industry or the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree
- The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position
- The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.
Period of Stay:
- An H-1B nonimmigrant may be admitted for a period of up to three years. The time period may be extended, but generally cannot go beyond a total of six years.
- The H-1B visa has an annual numerical limit "cap" of 65,000 visas each fiscal year. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.
Facts And Figures:
- Applications for the annual allotment of H-1Bs opens April 1st of every year for hiring an employee on October 1 of the same calendar year (next fiscal year).
- In years of stronger economic growth, USCIS receives many times more H-1B applications than available visas. As a result, the visas are distributed by random lottery and are typically exhausted within days of April 1.