I was super excited to see a recent report by the Conference Board, a business research group. It sparked my imagination on how the U.S. can realign our immigration policy to target our national needs and long-term economic goals.
You can read the Committee on Economic Development (CED) of the Conference Board’s report, “Boosting Immigration.” In a nutshell, here are some things we could do that would have a huge effect:
- Overhaul the H-1B.
- Streamline the path from H-1B to green card.
- Redo the employment-based green card system.
- Fast-track top international talent.
- Create place-based employment visas.
- Establish a Workforce and Immigration Policy Advisory Board.
As folks in Silicon Valley agree, attracting and retaining international talent is crucial. Because the native-born American population will increase by only 0.4 percent annually between 2020 and 2060, we need to rely on immigrants to grow the U.S. workforce and support programs, such as Social Security. Let’s focus on creating a predictable and efficient process that matches our national recruiting goals.
Here are CED’s immigration reform recommendations in more detail.
1. Revise the H-1B Process
The report recommends making the H-1B visa program more attractive to international talent who have the skills most in-demand by employers. In addition, it recommends making it quicker and easier for employers to hire available talent, including international graduates of American universities. To accomplish this, the CED suggests instituting the following:
- More frequent distribution of new H-1B visas—either quarterly or monthly—rather than the current once-a-year allocation.
- Allow employers to petition for an H-1B a few months before an employee’s planned start date.
- Speed up the processing times for H-1B petitions. More frequent allocations of H-1B visas could help with this.
- Replace the H-1B visa lottery with a ranking approach based on wage—and geography, cost-of-living, or other criteria—to distribute H-1Bs to the most in-demand workers.
- Modestly adjust the annual limits on new H-1B visas up or down based on the prior year’s demand to make the cap somewhat responsive to labor market demand.
2. Improve H-1B to Green Card Path
The CED report states the U.S. needs to improve the attractiveness of the H-1B route to a green card. This would help prevent workers from being drawn away by easier alternatives in other countries.
The report recommends that after three years and the successful renewal of an H-1B visa:
- H-1B visa holders could apply for a green card without an employer sponsor. This would give them the flexibility to change employers without interrupting their green card process.
- Allow the spouses (H-4 visa holders) of H-1B visa holders to work. That would enable families “to more fully integrate” into the U.S. If a spouse qualifies for an H-1B visa on his or her own, the report recommends that the spouse be given a work permit.
Currently, the spouses of H-1B visa holders who are pursuing a green card are eligible for a work permit (H-4 Employment Authorization Document). However, the H-4 EAD program could end soon.
3. Change the Employment Green Card System
Having a system in place that enables immigrants “to predictably secure a green card” would “significantly increase” the talent level of immigrants, the report states. That means boosting the number of green cards available to immigrants selected for economic reasons while maintaining the number of family-based and diversity green cards. The CED advocates raising employer-sponsored green cards and creating new green card pathways for international workers and graduates of in-demand fields.
The report also recommends that Congress eliminate the existing per-country cap on employment-based green cards. Legislation has been introduced and reintroduced in both the House and Senate that would eliminate the per-country cap but they have stalled.
4. Fast-Track Entry
Congress should create a points-based pilot program to “fast track highly qualified workers into the US,” the report says.
Eligible international workers meeting minimum age, language, education, and work experience requirements should be eligible to enter the U.S. without a job offer. Skills and experience in high-demand fields that have a shortage of workers could be specifically targeted. Individuals accepted into the program would be provisionally approved for a green card. Receiving a green card would be conditioned on achieving certain employment benchmarks during the first two years.
5. Develop Regional Employment Visas
The CED report points out that smaller or slower-growing areas of the U.S. stand to benefit from immigrants. Given that, it proposes that the U.S follow in the footsteps of countries that have created “place-based” visas. For instance, Canada has recruited roughly a third of its economic-targeted immigrants through region-specific visa offers in recent years. Additionally, about one-fifth of Australia’s skill-based visas go to immigrants sponsored by regions experiencing low growth or severe worker shortages.
The report also suggested encouraging visa holders to live in regions with declining working-age populations by offering a green card.
6. National Immigration Advisory Board
The Conference Board has long advocated for the creation of a national advisory board that focuses on the demand for foreign workers in the U.S. labor market and optimizing U.S. immigration.
Modeled after the Social Security Advisory Board, the Workforce and Immigration Policy Advisory Board would be comprised of bipartisan experts appointed by the president and Congress. Unlike the U.S., Canada, Australia, and most of Europe frequently adjust their immigration systems to respond to shifting economic needs. This board could advise Congress on:
- National immigration levels
- Whether particular skills or occupations are over- or under-served by existing immigration programs
- How to change the U.S. immigration system to meet workforce or economic needs.
I’ve also advocated the U.S. create a national advisory board that sets annual immigration levels and prioritizes visas and green cards based on the state of the economy and projected labor needs. Immigration policy should be nimble and flexible to accommodate changing market conditions and support and spur innovation.
What do you think of the Conference Board’s recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below. The Alcorn Immigration Law team believes immigration leads to innovation. Reach out to us if we can help you or your employees devise the best immigration strategies.