US should remain magnet for talented workers

Having lived and traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia teaching and helping businesses manage effectively, I can tell you unequivocally that American businesses face more competition than ever for the world’s most talented workers.

Unfortunately, the immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate this summer actually does significant harm by erecting new barriers to bringing the best and smartest individuals in the world to the U.S. to work, teach and learn through the high-skilled worker visa program. The U.S. House of Representatives should take the opportunity to correct this error as it takes up immigration reform legislation this fall.

The Senate bill would force U.S. companies to cut through reams of new red tape and pay thousands of dollars more than they do now to hire the world’s most talented workers. As a result, U.S. companies would be at a new disadvantage compared to their foreign counterparts and jobs now in America would potentially be sent overseas if companies couldn’t find suitable replacements. The U.S. economy and the local economies where thousands of U.S. companies reside would potentially be at risk.

Critics of the current high-skilled worker visa program (H-1B) argue qualified Americans are deprived of job opportunities because U.S. businesses are able to hire cheaper foreign workers as an alternative. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Statewide, Ohio experienced high-tech job growth of 4.6 percent in 2011, or nearly double the national average, according to a recent study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. The study found that wages for these positions averaged nearly $77,000 in 2011, compared with about $50,000 median income for all U.S. households in 2011.

Despite this success, businesses continue to struggle to meet the demand for high-tech jobs with homegrown talent. This situation is unacceptable, and immigration reform is an opportunity to reverse the shortage of workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

In the interim, however, the H-1B visa program is a critical tool companies have to remain competitive. But the Senate bill would make it nearly impossible for American businesses to hire high-tech workers from other countries to make up for the shortage of American college graduates with advanced STEM degrees.

Instead, I believe a compromise should be patterned after legislation approved by the House Judiciary Committee and supported by our very own Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. The House bill would address the STEM shortage – by increasing the number of green cards allotted to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees – while also responding to the “skills gap” by more than doubling the current allotment of H-1B visas.

By contrast, the Senate’s immigration bill would insert bureaucrats from the U.S. Department of Labor in the hiring process of nearly every company in America. Companies would be forced under penalty of law to advertise jobs on a special U.S. government-controlled website. They would be told who they could and could not hire. Put simply, the Senate immigration bill brings Washington intrusion in the everyday operations of businesses across America to a new level.

American companies don’t need more red tape; they need less. They don’t need to be told who they can hire or where they have to advertise to find workers. They certainly don’t need to pay thousands of dollars more in fees for every worker they hire in the high-tech, math and engineering fields.

What they need is a fair, smart, pro-business and pro-worker immigration policy that makes government less involved in their business, not more. Washington needs to understand that in a global business environment, American companies need to be able to hire the best and the brightest workers no matter where they hail from. The Senate immigration bill, despite some good provisions, does serious harm to American innovation. This must change.

The House should oppose the Senate’s high-skilled labor provisions that increase burdens on American companies seeking to hire the best talent from around the globe. Additionally, the House should halt the onerous fee increases imposed by the Senate on companies looking to hire the world’s smartest workers that give America an edge over its competitors.

The House should pass an immigration reform plan that keeps this nation of immigrants at the top of the world when it comes to innovation, talent and productivity. But it should do so smartly in a way that does no harm.

Lillian Schumacher has more than 24 years of experience in higher education and corporate environments.