A US Chamber of Commerce sponsored event early this year underscored the visa challenges facing multinational giants. Companies described their L-1 intracompany visa woes to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, reporting that they do not have the needed flexibility to deploy professional resources to the US for various projects, whether in the manufacturing sector or the information technology arena. The bottom line: adjudicatory standards have tightened in the absence of any legislative action or pronounced Agency policy change.
The challenges faced by such multinationals are not limited to the L-1 visa program. They also include the H-1B visa category, where increased filing fees and unexpected USCIS adjudicatory changes have forced companies to seek alternatives, including “offshoring” US work to Canada, Asia and even Europe. The situation isn’t any better with the immigrant visa, or green card program. Here, adjudicatory trends at the Labor and Immigration departments and increased delays with permanent visa availability have made offering full-time permanent US employment to highly educated professionals difficult, if not impractical.
The situation is, perhaps, somewhat curious to the outside observer. President Obama and the leading Republican candidates all agree to business based visa program improvements, particularly for those who possess technical degrees. According to Mr. Obama, the H-1B program needs to be strengthened to fill the need for high-skilled workers. Similarly, Mr. Romney wants to staple a green card “to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in math, science or engineering.” Mr. Gingrich advocates for “an H-1B visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here.” Even Mr. Santorum endorses giving “folks the opportunity to have a green card and stay here and work” when they have graduated from some sort of higher education.
In the same vein, our divided House of Representatives actually agreed to improvements to eliminate employment-based per-country visa caps that plague the green card program. In a 389-15 vote, the House overwhelmingly passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in late November 2011. The measure’s aim was to end the employment-based caps for green card applicants and also improve the wait times for family-sponsored applicants.
The passed legislation hit quite an obstacle at the Senate where Iowa Senator Charles Grassley placed a procedural “hold” on the bill. Mr. Grassley expressed concerns about “immigration flows” and the protection of “Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs during this time of record high employment.” In order to release the hold on the legislation, Mr. Grassley offered an amendment that would make dramatic changes to the bill including an actual reduction in employment-based permanent immigration levels. He also added provisions that would restrict businesses’ ability to use the L-1 and H-1B visa categories. Mr. Grassley’s amendment was objected to, and the hold remains. The bill is dead.
Mr. Grassley embraces a minority view on these business based visa issues, particularly when compared to private business, our President, the Republican presidential candidates, and the House of Representatives. The procedural hold placed on the latest round of legislation by Mr. Grassley thwarts the majority view to preserve his agenda on these issues.
Agendas aside, it cannot be denied that a successful job creator has been Apple, Inc. The company recently declared that it directly or indirectly created 514,000 jobs in the US. Its job creation efforts have nonetheless been even more impressive overseas. The late Steve Jobs reported to President Obama that Apple had 700,000 factory workers in China, not necessarily by choice, but because the US could not produce the 30,000 engineers needed to provide on-site support to those workers. Mr. Jobs explained that if we could get these engineers in the US, Apple and companies like it could return more manufacturing plants here. The business immigration policies articulated at the Chamber of Commerce event and echoed by our President and presidential candidates (not to mention the House of Representatives) would foster policies consistent with Mr. Jobs’ views and experience. We now need one US Senator to simply let the issue run its course.
Mr. Grassley should not be demonized for his position on business based immigration policies, nor should this debate be any more acerbic than in previous years. He is, of course, entitled to his opinions on these issues, and they should be respected. Nonetheless, such positions have arguably done a great deal to stimulate overseas employment. Mr. Grassley might be properly viewed as one of our country’s most effective jobs creators; the created jobs just so happen to be outside the US.
With luck, Mr. Grassley might alter his position on these issues and, with continued bipartisan efforts, our country will enact business based immigration policies that further job growth in the US. Maybe big business can even forgive and forget and open a few plants in Iowa.