PATRIOT LEDGER: Immigration reform critical to continued economic growth
As originally appearing in THE PATRIOT LEDGER

BY: JAMES T. BRETT

Melting pot. Land of opportunity. The American dream. Each of these concepts is ingrained in our nation’s history and our identity. At its core, America is a nation of immigrants. For many of us, that is something to be proud of. Something to celebrate. But our nation’s current immigration system and recent changes to our immigration policies simply do not reflect that.

The time has come for our leaders in Washington to take action to ensure that America continues to build upon our proud history as a nation that embraces newcomers for the potential they hold as valuable members of our society. Few would argue that our immigration system and policies are in need of reform and modernization. And here in New England, our economy and the strength and diversity of our communities depend upon it.

In the near term, it is critical that Congress take action to protect the thousands of young men and women known as “DREAMers.” The New England region alone is home to some 15,000 individuals who are protected against deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. They were brought to this country by their families as children; they did not have a choice. For most, America is the only home they have ever known, and they have spent their lives growing up here, learning here, and pursuing the American dream right here.

A report from FWD.us recently found that 91 percent of DACA recipients are employed. They are valued members of our region’s workforce, where they are contributing their skills in the industries that drive New England’s economy – health care, technology, financial services and others. In fact, according to the Center for American Progress, the loss of DACA workers would reduce the U.S. gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years.

Despite this, in September, President Trump announced he would end DACA, but allowed a six-month grace period for Congress to enact a long-term solution. As that deadline fast approaches, we implore our leaders on Capitol Hill to set aside partisan differences and move swiftly to ensure that these valuable members of our communities are able to remain in the U.S.

In the longer term – but we hope in the year ahead – the time has come for Congress to make much-needed updates to our immigration system to ensure continued growth in our region’s thriving innovation economy. New England is home to thousands of innovative businesses across a range of industries. The one thing all these companies have in common? They all rely on a highly skilled workforce with advanced training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to continue to grow and innovate. But time and again we hear that there simply are not enough American workers to fill the new jobs being created, and employers must turn to highly trained men and women who come to the U.S. on H-1B visas.

While we certainly must continue investing in STEM education to develop the talent pipeline for the future, it is critical we ensure that talented individuals from around the globe can join the American workforce. The New England Council has long advocated for an increase in the cap on H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrant workers. In recent years, H-1B visa applications consistently have hit the cap of 85,000 within days of the application period opening – it took just four days in 2017 – which has triggered strong bipartisan support for increasing the cap on H-1B visas. The New England Council once again calls on Congress to increase the cap and ensure that our region’s innovative businesses have access to the workforce they need for continued growth.

There are certainly other immigration policies that need reform and modernization, and we are hopeful that Congress will take a comprehensive and bipartisan approach to any such reform. But addressing these two particular policies – DACA and H-1B visas – is critical to our economy and to preserving our nation’s proud history as a place that welcomes those who wish to come here to contribute and pursue the American dream.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.

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