NEC calls for visa program changes to support economic growth in New England
Last month, the New England Council was honored to host a discussion of federal immigration policy with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch. These two respected leaders highlighted the important role that immigrants play in our economy, filling important jobs throughout the workforce. While some are scientist and engineers, others fill critical roles in the service and hospitality industries.
While there is great debate over how to reform our immigration system, few on either side of the aisle would argue that the time has come for some changes. This week, the New England Council wrote to the New England delegation to offer some suggestions on a few near-term updates to the nation’s visa programs that we believe are fairly straightforward, can be addressed on a bipartisan basis and will have a direct impact on the economic environment of New England. These include changes to several visa categories that provide workers who directly drive the knowledge-based, services and seasonal businesses of the New England region.
In particular, the Council’s letter identifies two specific changes that would be beneficial to our region
Increasing the Cap on H-1B and H-2B Visas – The NEC has long supported increasing the limits on H-1B and H-2B visas. The H-1B visa program allows employers to supplement their current workforce with highly skilled foreign workers in occupations requiring specialized knowledge and at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Additionally, many businesses across the country, particularly those associated with tourist destinations, have traditionally relied on foreign workers to supplement the regular staff during their busiest months. The H-2B working visa allows foreign nationals to enter into the United States temporarily to engage in nonagricultural employment that is seasonal in nature. The demand for workers under the H-1B and H-2B visa programs continues to grow, yet the limit on the number of visas issued in both programs is quickly reached each year, leaving employers unable to fill open positions.
Green Cards for STEM Graduates – The NEC also supports increasing the number of permanent resident “green cards” available to foreign-born graduates with advanced STEM degrees. Providing green cards for the top foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in the STEM fields will help close the skills gap and will enable U.S. companies to be more competitive in the global economy. While the STEM Jobs Act recently failed to pass the House, the NEC is encouraged that Congress recognizes the importance of addressing this important issue.