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Inaugural Address Includes Call for Immigration Reform to Attract More Workers in High-Tech Fields

Barack_Obama's_2013_inauguration_at_U.S._Capitol.jpgDuring his second inaugural address on Monday, January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama emphasized the need to attract skilled workers and students from abroad, and the need for immigration reform to achieve that goal. Demand for highly-skilled workers in fields involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) vastly outpaces the available supply of work visas, with the government routinely approving fewer than half of the petitions filed each year. Caps on the number of visas immigration authorities may issue each year, particularly H-1B skilled worker visas, are largely responsible for the gulf between supply and demand. Both political parties agree on the need to expand access to immigrants in STEM fields, but they do not agree on how to do it.

President Obama has addressed the need for immigration reform affecting skilled worker visas several times recently. In his second inaugural address, he spoke of the need to “enlist[ immigrants] in our workforce rather than expel[ them] from our country.” He made a much more stark reference to the problems faced by American businesses in his 2012 State of the Union Address, stating that immigrants who cannot remain in the U.S. after obtaining STEM degrees from American universities will go home and “invent new products and create new jobs” there instead of here.

Demand among American businesses for highly-skilled workers with H-1B visas has steadily increased over the past decade or more, according to a July 2012 report from the Brookings Institution, with temporary declines corresponding with market downturns. Demand dipped after the dot-com bubble burst and the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but increased again after 2003. After reaching a high in 2007, demand declined again after the Wall Street crash, but has rallied since 2010. Average annual demand for the period from 2001 until the end of 2011, according to the Brookings report, was 336,309, vastly exceeding the average of 129,134 H-1B visas issued each year during that period.

Caps on certain nonimmigrant visas, especially H-1B visas, force many students to leave the U.S. when their studies conclude, even if they have made a home and a life here. They also deprive businesses of a vast talent pool with education and skills in STEM fields. Business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and high-tech trade groups, are therefore strong supporters of increasing work visas for highly-skilled immigrants. The Chamber claims that millions of jobs remain unfilled because the only individuals with the requisite skills cannot obtain work visas. Many of those jobs end up going to other countries, along with the skilled workers.

A bill introduced in the 112th Congress and passed by the House of Representatives, the STEM Jobs Act, would have authorized 55,000 immigrant visas for foreign-born students who graduate from accredited American universities with advanced STEM degrees. Democrats in the U.S. Senate reportedly blocked the bill due to disagreement over the cuts to other programs. To authorize 55,000 additional visas without increasing the overall number of visas, the STEM Jobs Act would have eliminated the diversity visa program. The goal of increasing employment-related immigration, without unreasonably burdening other types of immigration, remains elusive for now.

The business immigration attorneys of Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to work for, or invest in, a New York or New Jersey business, and help businesses petition for skilled immigrant employees. To schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team, contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

Immigration Authorities Have Allegedly Undercounted H-1B Visas Since 2008, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 20, 2012
Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down New York State Law Preventing H-1B Visa Holders and Temporary Workers From Obtaining Pharmacy Licenses, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, October 5, 2012
U.S. Senate Passes Extension of EB-5 Investor Visa Pilot Program, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, September 7, 2012
Photo credit: By White House/Sonya Hebert (White House (P012113SH-0576)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.