A Modern Approach to U.S. Immigration Policy

CEO Principles for Making Immigration Work for America

Immigrants are the lifeblood of American innovation, the American economy and the American Dream. Immigrants bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to our companies and our communities. They are workers and taxpayers who complement the domestic workforce and make contributions large and small to our everyday lives. They are also our neighbors. Immigrants built our country and are central to its future.

America truly is a nation of immigrants. It is also a nation governed by the rule of law. U.S. immigration policy must balance these values. It must also reflect the realities of the 21st century economy. It must help build a diverse workforce that allows American companies to serve global customers and compete in new markets. America is more connected to the world today than ever before.

Unfortunately, U.S. immigration policy today is failing our country and all who have a stake in America’s success. Legal channels for immigration have not kept pace with the U.S. economy; immigration laws have been indiscriminately enforced; 11 million immigrants live in the United States without documentation or under temporary relief from removal; and laws are too often applied without transparency, consistency or predictability.

America’s business leaders believe we can, and must, do better as a nation. U.S. immigration policy can keep our country and citizens safe while remaining true to the American values of welcoming immigrants, protecting the vulnerable and treating all people fairly – and Congress should fulfill its oversight role to ensure laws are evenly and consistently applied.

With these values as a guide, we propose four principles for modernizing the U.S. immigration system to reflect the world we live in today:

  • The United States should increase the number of skills-based immigrants. U.S. immigration policy should reflect the widely accepted fact that our economy and communities have benefited from immigrants’ knowledge, skills and hard work — particularly in the high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • The United States should improve access to temporary workers with skills needed in the marketplace. A modern U.S. immigration system will allow talented, foreign-born workers to fill critical skills gaps that will fuel economic growth and will ensure policies are applied transparently, consistently and predictably.
  • The United States should use cutting-edge technology to improve the immigration system. Just as companies employ leading innovations to improve processes and keep America competitive, the government should use cutting-edge technology to enhance national security, prevent unlawful immigration and administer immigration laws.
  • Congress must embrace a bipartisan, practical solution to address undocumented immigrants and those living under temporary relief from removal. Whether it be individuals who entered the United States without authorization, minor children they brought with them, or individuals who have been granted temporary relief from removal, Congress needs to address these populations with fair, just and practical solutions.

Principle 1: The United States should increase the number of skills-based immigrants.

Immigrants to the United States are net job creators who drive new innovations that deliver dividends across the economy and in communities large and small. They are a beneficial, needed complement to the native-born workforce, not a replacement. According to an October 2018 report from the National Foundation for American Policy, U.S. companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more with immigrant founders created an average of 1,200 jobs per company.

U.S. immigration policy should reflect the widely accepted fact that our economy and communities have benefited from immigrants’ knowledge, skills and hard work — particularly in the high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Proposed solutions include:

  • Reducing the green card backlog for high-skilled, foreign-born professionals. Only 140,000 green cards are available each year for employment-based immigrants, which includes the employees themselves and their family members. Several reforms can be made to alleviate these backlogs and reduce the time high-skilled professionals must currently wait to receive permanent status, including: increasing annual limits on green cards; eliminating per-country limits on green cards; exempting family members from the 140,000 cap; and exempting those with special skills (e.g., individuals with STEM graduate degrees).
  • Removing barriers to retaining foreign-born graduates of U.S. colleges and universities, especially those with advanced STEM degrees. A high percentage of STEM graduate students at U.S. universities are foreign born, and America would benefit from encouraging them to stay and work here. Programs that allow them to work after graduating, like Optional Practical Training (OPT), should be preserved, and a green card should be stapled to the diplomas of those with special skills who want to work and stay in the United States.
  • Recognizing that employers, not bureaucrats, are best positioned to identify skills gaps and select their workforces. Business leaders best know the talent needed to grow their operations and make the biggest positive impact possible on the U.S. economy. 

Principle 2: The United States should improve access to temporary workers with skills needed in the marketplace.

An immigration system that meets our economic needs will not only allow needed workers to come here today, but will also adjust to our changing economy each year based on objective data. An October 2018 analysis by New American Economy found that almost 44 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Static and arbitrary immigration quotas (last established in 1990) prevent our economy from welcoming hardworking talent who will make great contributions.

A modern U.S. immigration system will allow talented, foreign-born workers to fill critical skills gaps that will fuel economic growth and will ensure policies are applied transparently, consistently and predictably.

Proposed policy solutions include:

  • Increasing work visa numbers for high-skilled foreign workers to reflect current skills gaps and allow for adjustments based on the needs of the economy. Congress must create a workable visa system where the number of foreign workers fluctuates based on economic growth and employment data, not political dynamics.
  • Allowing spouses of high-skilled visa holders to work. Today, only a limited number of spouses of foreign workers may apply for U.S. work authorization. Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, allow spouses of highly skilled workers to accept employment. This should be an option in the United States.
  • Creating a predictable process for employers. The work visa application process should not impose burdensome paperwork obligations on employers, and the government should decide those applications in a consistent and timely manner. Companies will be more likely to invest in the future if there are confidence that high-skilled foreign workers will not lose work authorization because of evolving government policies.
  • Increasing flexibility for and job portability of high-skilled workers, including H-1B visa holders and green card applicants. It is often extremely difficult for H-1B visa holders, particularly those who are pursuing green cards, to change positions within their companies or employers altogether without jeopardizing their immigration status.
  • Creating a new visa category for year-round jobs when U.S. unemployment is low. Current law provides no visa category for foreign-born workers to work legally in the United States on a year-round basis in certain high-demand industries, such as hospitality and construction. Establishing a legal workable system to hire in these kinds of year-round industries, when U.S. unemployment is low, would help fill critical staffing needs.

Principle 3: The United States should use cutting-edge technology to improve the immigration system.

According to Pew Research Center, 11 million unauthorized immigrants were in the United States in 2015, accounting for 3.4 percent of the nation’s population. Pew Research also estimates that 5 percent of the American workforce is not authorized to work.[1] Such numbers are clear indicators that the current immigration system is broken and must be fixed.

Just as companies employ leading innovations to improve processes and keep America competitive, the government should use cutting-edge technology to enhance national security, prevent unlawful immigration and administer immigration laws.

Proposed policy solutions include:

  • Pursuing smart border enforcement and investment in infrastructure and security. American innovation has propelled U.S. companies to the forefront of world technology and invention, and it can do the same for border security. Congress should explore new technologies that would detect and prevent illegal crossings and keep our country, and all who live here, safe.
  • Phasing in mandatory use of an updated E-Verify system. A paper-based verification system is susceptible to fraud and has failed to serve as an effective deterrent. Congress should update E-Verify to address identity theft, preempt conflicting state laws and protect employers that use the system in good faith from legal action that may result from their efforts to comply.
  • Expanding the Known Employer and Trusted Traveler Programs. The Known Employer program streamlines the visa application process for reliable employers who have consistently received visa approvals for their employees. Trusted Traveler Programs do the same for qualified travelers to the United States. Expanding these programs will create greater efficiency and save the government, companies and individuals from expending unnecessary time and resources. Congress should also encourage inter-governmental data-sharing arrangements, like those in the Visa Waiver Program, that facilitate secure travel and legal border crossings.
  • Allowing e-filing for immigration benefits. Currently, most immigration benefit applications must be printed and submitted via the postal system, which forces the government and companies to incur steep administrative costs and burdens.

Principle 4: Congress must embrace a bipartisan, practical solution to address undocumented immigrants and those living under temporary relief from removal.

The U.S. immigration system has been broken for so long that tough decisions on how to solve the issue of the undocumented population will have to be made. There are an estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States today without documentation, thousands of individuals were brought here as minors and many now live here under temporary relief from removal.

Whether it be individuals who entered the United States without authorization, minor children they brought with them, or individuals who have been granted temporary relief from removal, Congress needs to address these populations with fair, just and practical solutions.

Guiding principles for finding a solution:

  • Legislation must be bipartisan. Single-party solutions have failed. Congress must be practical and provide lasting, consensus solutions that create policy around which America can move forward.
  • Policies must address childhood arrivals and create a path to citizenship for them. American values of justice and fairness dictate that someone who was brought to the U.S. as a child and knows no other country, a so-called Dreamer, should have those circumstances taken into account by Congress. America’s business leaders are confident that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner to design a way forward that serves American interests while staying true to our values.
  • Policy choices must encourage future lawful immigration, but must also be practical, fair and consistent with American values. Our nation’s leaders must remember that we are a nation of immigrants and a nation governed by the rule of law. Policymakers must find a way to balance these fundamental American values in creating an immigration system that will serve our nation into the future.

Notes:

[2] Ibid