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The Urgency of Immigration Reform

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Even after losing the presidential chair at the last two elections, the most conservative faction of the U.S. government seems adamant in its rejection of immigration reform. Using as an excuse the set of “principles” they are preparing to present a new proposal to once and for all pass new immigration laws, nothing has happened.

There are still many members of Congress who do not consider immigration reform a priority, in spite of statistics and economic challenges brought by the ever increasing limited number of high-skilled workers in the United States.

To make things worse, last year’s government shutdown put many U.S. businesses on hold by creating a backlog of over 37,000 immigration cases. The Office of Foreign Labor Certification stopped conducting, accepting or processing applications, which caused serious delays in the issuance of work permits to numerous high skilled H-1B professionals hired to work for American companies in the US. Stopping the issuance of work visas caused many foreign professionals in the U.S. to lose their jobs. As there is no grace period for immigrant workers, these men and women were now helplessly left in violation of the terms of their present visas, facing deportation or the prospect of being denied future visa extensions.

Immigration reform is nothing new. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was one of the most important milestones in the history of immigration in the United States. Still, it lacked the necessary foresight to plan for the future labor force needs that affect the US economy today [at all levels].

Acccording to the Issue Brief “IRCA in Retrospect: Guideposts for Today’s Immigration Reform” by Muzaffar Chisti and Charles Kamasaki , published by the Migration Policy Institute, “BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] projections suggest that from 2010 to 2020, the U.S. economy will add 20.5 million new jobs … [and]…as the economy will create these new jobs, 33.7 million U.S. workers will leave the workforce. Thousands of baby boomers are now ready to retire, and 36.6% of the U.S. population will be 55 or older by 2020.

U.S. industries need workers, and when there are not enough U.S. employees willing to work, companies must resort to hiring foreigners.

And this is not the first time the United States is short staffed. Between 1942 and 1964, 4.6 million Mexican skilled agricultural workers were invited to legally work in the United States through the "Bracero Program", which was enacted into Public Law 78 in 1951. These laborers were admitted on a temporary basis to replace U.S. workers who either went to work in factories, or joined the U.S. armed forces during WWII and the Korean War.

More than 23 states hired these Mexican workers, until the program was cancelled in 1964.

According to the Bracero History Archive, “…the Bracero Program had safeguards to protect both Mexican and domestic workers. For example, they received guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage received by native workers; they were granted employment for three-fourths of the contract period; and received adequate, sanitary, and free housing; decent meals at reasonable prices; occupational insurance at employer's expense; and free transportation back to Mexico at the end of the contract.”

Today, the need for highly skilled foreign professionals is by far larger than the 65,000 H-1B visas that the United States issues each year. In a study done in December 2008, the Harvard Business School found that between 1995 and 2006, “…immigrants comprise[d] nearly half of all scientists and engineers in the United States who have a doctorate”. In fact, last year 40% of graduate students at UC Berkeley’s College or Engineering were foreign born.

Other countries are beginning programs to keep their talented professionals at home. Even though 90% of Mexican scientists go back to their home country once they graduate, Mexico still plans to launch a crusade to stop any brain drain that may still exist. Mexico’s National System of Researchers (SNI) plans to begin this campaign by successfully bringing back to Mexico over 400 young scientists presently living abroad. There are over 1,500 Mexican specialists working in other countries, mostly in Canada and the US.

If foreign scientists begin returning home, this will represent a serious brain drain to the United States.
Michigan is progressively working towards a successful economic future. With over 5,000 foreign students graduating every year from Michigan universities, Gov. Rick Snyder was right to ask Washington to increase the number of visas for foreign professional workers to remain in his state.

Let us not forget that 63% of computer science students, and 70% of all electrical engineering graduates in the United States are from other countries, this according to “The Importance of International Students to America”, a report published by the National Foundation for American Policy. In fact, in the United States more than half of chemical, materials, industrial, and mechanical engineering graduates are foreign born.

Foreign born STEM professionals are needed to fill vacancies in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math everywhere in the United States. Vacancies in these disciplines continue to grow, but the number of U.S. students interested in STEM continues to diminish, therefore the need for foreigners to fill the gaps.

When we think of what the Statue of Liberty represents, according to website United States Citizenship, "...immigrants coming to the United States see it as a representation of a new beginning and the opportunity to fulfill their dreams".

If Emma Lazarus's sonnet, better known as the Statue of Liberty Poem, were rewritten today, it would probably not only say "Give me your tired, your poor...", but also, "Give me your students, scientists and professionals... and keep them here to the benefit of our great nation".

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