Workforce Development

The Invisible Wall to Legal Immigration

The United States of America is one of the most important and influential countries on earth. One of the primary destinations for immigrants, the U.S. attracts people from all over the world due to its strong economy and excellent educational system. However, in order to capitalize fully on the nation’s popularity as an immigration destination, America must modernize its outdated immigration policies and regulations. There are a variety of visa options for people who want to reside in the U.S., and H1B visas and Green cards are probably the best known. The first type is a temporary work permit that allows people to work legally in the U.S. and can be obtained if an American company sponsors and provides employment to a foreign worker in a specialty occupation. Green cards, on the other hand, are permanent U.S. work permits.

There are different ways to apply for these two kinds of visas. The most common method is through a lottery system that occurs each fiscal year. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), approximately 233,000 requests for H1B visas were received during fiscal year (FY) 2016 clearly exceeding the statutory cap of 85,000. According to the U.S. Department of State, the green card lottery program had more than 14 million applicants in 2015 for the year 2016, but it only allows for up to 50,000 immigrant visas to be awarded annually. Because of the high number of applicants relative to the available spots, U.S. immigration agencies are forced to turn away many highly qualified individuals. America’s current immigration system serves as an invisible “Visa Wall” to legal immigration of which many Americans are not even aware. This wall often prevents people with skills needed by U.S. employers and the appropriate qualifications from coming to America to help strengthen the U.S. economy and contribute to American society.

Misguided visa restrictions and obsolete regulations are at the heart of the problem and might even be exacerbating illegal immigration as well. As the Udall Center at the University of Arizona points out, the U.S. immigration system severely limits channels for legal permanent migration, making illegal immigration the only option for people desperate to come to the United States. This condition is clearly not beneficial for the country since it is hard to calculate exactly how much undocumented immigrants cost for the nation or how much they pay into it.

The lottery system is not only inadequate in terms of the number of applicants selected, but spaces are awarded randomly, not by the applicants’ potential to contribute to the nation. As a consequence of this process lacking in any apparent national strategy, economic opportunities are missed: taxes paid by legalized immigrants, further income of immigrant-owned businesses in the U.S., new jobs created from these businesses, newcomers’ earnings spent to purchase American homes and goods. Yet, the “machine of destiny” responsible for these selections could easily choose individuals who: are not interested in conforming to American laws and values; do not plan to permanently remain and work in the U.S. and lack the skills needed to grow the American economy.  This is why it is crucial for the U.S. to have “smart” immigration policies that lead to the selection of applicants who truly want to assimilate into American culture, have the skills needed by American businesses and deeply long to be part of the American Dream. Timing is also another big issue as the application process is usually lengthy and difficult. Those who do not obtain the H1B visa in the first lottery have to apply again for the following year and so on. In the meantime, this person is not legally allowed to work in the U.S. Obtaining a green card can also take years. Frustration is common to the unlucky people not chosen. If they still want to remain in the States, they are forced to change the purpose of their visit while in the United States, such as applying to academic programs and obtaining student visas.

Therefore, qualifying for a green card or having sponsorship for H1B visas is a real challenge. Eligibility is strict and number of visas is inadequate. Access to H1B visas or green cards, even for graduates of elite U.S. educational institutions, is limited and even when visas are available it can take years to acquire. It should not be so hard to provide work permits to individuals who have legally lived in the U.S. as students or with other visas, and assimilated into American culture. The United States’ broken immigration system needs to be reformed so that it helps America reach its economic and social goals. This will help not only the new comers, but also Americans workers. According to the American Immigration Council, a more comprehensive immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by at least 0.84 percent, increase tax revenues and stimulate the U.S. economy. It is time to harness the U.S. immigration system to contribute to America’s economic growth.

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