It’s time to kick a field goal on immigration

As a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan, I know all too well what bad decisions look like, and how one bad decision — even early in a game — can cost you. In the first quarter of a scoreless football game, you don’t gamble and go for it on fourth down if you are in field-goal range — you take the points. If the immigration debate is a football game, it’s a scoreless first quarter right now and it’s time to kick the proverbial field goal and take the policy points in the form of enhanced E-Verify and legislation dealing with high-skilled workers.

Passing enhanced E-Verify and high-skilled worker legislation doesn’t mean giving up on comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, passing these pieces of legislation will help make a broader immigration deal possible by establishing trust among the parties involved and putting in place some of the ingredients necessary to any comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Almost everyone agrees that enhanced E-Verify is an essential element of immigration reform. Jobs are the main magnet for unauthorized entry into the U.S. and the main magnet for overstays of legal entries. A prerequisite for any path to legalization or citizenship is a “prevention” strategy aimed at turning off this magnet. E-Verify can do that. Indeed, the reason the Reagan-era legalization program failed is that it lacked a system like E-Verify to help establish who is here legally and who is here illegally.

Enhanced E-Verify would include new identity-proofing methods that utilize 21st-century technology. An employer would electronically supply a job applicant’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number (or Department of Homeland Security identity number if the applicant isn’t a citizen). The employer would then be given either a green light (meaning the applicant is authorized to work), a yellow light (meaning the applicant’s eligibility can’t immediately be confirmed) or a red light (the applicant isn’t authorized to work). This process could be done on any computer or smartphone with Internet access.

There is broad agreement about not only the need for enhanced E-Verify, but also the need to make it easier for high-skilled workers to come to the U.S. The current system of providing a limited number of H-1B visas is woefully insufficient — with tremendous backlogs of applicants — and dramatically restricts the ability of H-1B recipients to change employers or even change jobs with the same employer.

There is an alternative to the current H-1B-based system that can and will work for immigrants, employers and our economy. We need to redesign the employment green-card process to avoid the H-1B pitfalls and address timeliness and efficiency directly. This means making the green-card process relevant and workable for new employees — replacing labor certification with fees or other mechanisms that can be accomplished immediately on worker selection — and ending the backlogs with sufficient visa numbers, at least for new employees.

We should replace labor certification with a prompt system (including premium processing of petitions) that requires strong attestations regarding an initial prevailing wage, non-displacement, strong and consistent recruitment and the payment of substantial fees (such as 10-25% of the prevailing wage, depending on employer size) to create a clear market-based preference for U.S. workers.