“We all know that today, we have an immigration system that is out of date and badly broken; a system that is holding us back instead of helping us grow our economy and strengthen our middle class” said President Obama in a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan 29. He emphasized that the time had come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform and repeated, “The time is now … now is the time,” cited data from my research, and talked about skilled immigration as if he was reading paragraphs from my book, Immigrant Exodus.
His speech comes on the heels of a bipartisan agreement by a group of Senators called the ‘Gang of Eight’ to reform the immigration system. For the first time in years, the Democrats and Republicans are working together to fix the immigration mess. There is real hope that new immigration legislation may get the ball past the goal line, give the U.S. economy the boost that it badly needs, and lift millions out of a miserable life in the shadows.
The Senate agreement provides a sensible path to clear the green card backlog by eliminating nationality quotas, no longer counting spouses and dependents against the employment cap, and “recapturing” over 300,000 unused employment visas. It dramatically increases the number of H1-B visas and makes it easier for workers on these visas to switch companies— so they are no longer in “indentured servitude” to their employers. And most importantly, it authorizes employment for the spouses of H1-B workers so that professionals with great potential are no longer confined to their homes and locked out of the economy. It has been disgusting to see the treatment that a great country like the U.S. has given to group that is mostly women.
The president added a very important program that the Gang of Eight Senators forgot: the Startup Visa. This is something that Silicon Valley has long been demanding. Talking about students graduating from American universities, he said, “Right now in one of those classrooms, there is a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea, their Intel or Instagram, into a big business. We are giving them the skills to figure that out, but then we are going to turn around and tell them to start the business and create those jobs in China, or India, or Mexico, or someplace else. That is not how you grow new industries in America. That is how you give new industries to our competitors.”
I have been hopeful before that reform would happen. And I was bitterly disappointed when petty partisan politics caused several bipartisan agreements, over the past few years, to fall apart. It could well be that this happens again.
But there is a big difference this time.
After the Republicans had their butts kicked by Hispanics and Asians over the anti-immigrant rants of extreme segments of their party, they badly want to make amends. The conservative family values and fiscal prudence that the Republican Party espouses are very much in tune with Hispanic and Asian values. The Democrats should not have the strong voting advantage that they do with these groups. Now, Republican Party bosses need to level the playing field for their electoral candidates, and the president owes a debt that he needs to repay. So both sides of the political spectrum have a motivation not to act in a self-defeating way.
Having said that, I know that the public can count on its elected leadership to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; to take something that is sensible and screw it up. It is entirely possible that by the time the wheeling and dealing is done in Congress, we get legislation that makes both sides unhappy and doesn’t solve the real problem. Look at what happened with another bill that originally made so much sense: Obamacare. Even its supporters apologize while defending it.
Let’s hope our president can indeed pull off a miracle and get a sensible comprehensive immigration bill through the House and Senate. Such a bill would, without doubt, do wonders for the U.S. and for the skilled immigrants who want to make the U.S. their home and contribute to its success.
[Top image credit: Alex Helin/Shutterstock]