Magazine article Insight on the News

GOP's Quick Fix Won't Solve the Immigration Problem

Magazine article Insight on the News

GOP's Quick Fix Won't Solve the Immigration Problem

Article excerpt

In this election year, parties on both sides of Capitol Hill are scrambling to help the high-tech industry and, in particular, its desire for more skilled foreign workers. Key Republicans have proposed bills to bring in more skilled foreigners, and the bills are on a fast track. The bills would raise the cap on a popular type of short-term visa known as H-1B.

That visa admits skilled foreigners to work for three years in a specific position for a specific firm. It may be renewed for three more years.

The legislation, advanced by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, would raise the quota from 115,000 to 195,000 for each of the next three years. It also would exempt from the cap visa-holders working at universities and research facilities, as well as recent foreign graduates earning master's degrees or doctorates from American universities. All told, Hatch would flood in an estimated 325,000 a year.

Even better is the plan of Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, which would admit an additional 45,000 skilled foreigners this year. He bases that number on applications filed last year and a "bubble" caused by a government mistake. The legislation would give legitimate employers speedy approval of visa applications.

The Smith bill would close program loopholes prone to fraud and abuse. It would protect American workers against being displaced by cheaper foreign workers and discriminatory practices, and it would fund scholarships in science and engineering for American youth.

The fact is, however, that these bills are only short-term, partial solutions. The real problem facing the high-tech industry and the U.S. economy is a long-term skills gap. The fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy -- with high technology in the front ranks -- require a skilled, educated workforce. Low-skilled job growth is stale, whereas the knowledge sector is booming.

A Hudson Institute study found that the United States increasingly will lack enough qualified skilled workers. Besides shortcomings in the education system, Hudson cited the coming retirement of baby boomers and current immigration policies as factors contributing to the approaching workforce woes.

Part of the solution for the long run is to restructure the permanent immigration system so as to favor skilled, educated newcomers. This approach works better than three-year work visas, which create their own set of problems.

The present immigration system mostly brings unskilled, uneducated immigrants into a skills-based economy. …

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