Under Obama, guest-worker visa policy creates left-right conflict

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Under the Obama administration, skilled foreign professionals like doctors and software engineers find dim hope in Emma Lazarus’s poetic lamp lifted “beside the golden door.” These huddled, high tech masses are, quite often, told by Washington policymakers to consider launching their careers in other countries.

One physician trained in South Africa, for example, recently applied for a visa to work in the U.S. Despite the shortage of skilled doctors in America, the Obama administration failed to grant him “extraordinary worker” status. For him, there will be no work at a pharmaceutical company, no hospital shifts, and no opportunity to start his own consulting firm.

New York City immigration attorney Andrew P. Johnson, who represented that doctor, told The Daily Caller that the administration concluded his client — who also has a master’s degree in public health — should work at a “non-profit.” The federal government, he said, put the doctor through a “bureaucratic labyrinth,” and eventually restricted his job mobility once he was in the U.S.

“He was eventually forced to be based in Europe,” Johnson told TheDC.

Only 85,000 skilled foreign workers, including doctors and those with master’s degrees in technical subjects, are allowed in the U.S. every year to fill jobs in Silicon Valley, high-tech hospitals, and engineering firms. That’s fewer than are needed: The U.S. continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world in new graduates of university science, technology and mathematics programs.

A properly working guest worker program is “important to our economic growth,” Michael Wildes, another New York immigration lawyer told TheDC.

But progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and other liberal interest groups are pressuring the administration to drag its feet even more. The left claims foreign professionals are being hired here because they are cheaper to employ than American workers, and that U.S. employers like Siemens, Pfizer and others treat them like indentured servants.

Foreigners, they say, are often hired before Americans are given the chance to interview for a job. “Many firms exploit these loopholes for competitive advantage and profit, at the expense of American workers and the American economy,” Ron Hira, an EPI research associate, wrote in a recent U.S. News & World Report op-ed.

Meanwhile, a bi-partisan bill to bolster business worker immigration, sponsored by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, languishes in the U.S. Senate.

At a time of persistent high unemployment in the U.S. and increasing public concern about immigration and border control, liberal policy wonks argue, Congress may be receptive to the idea that the law should require employers to offer Americans jobs before offering them to foreign nationals.

On the opposite end of the policy spectrum is the argument that reforming America’s “guest worker” program would prevent the U.S. economy from falling even further behind.

The guest worker program, overseen by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services inside the Department of Homeland Security, includes the “H-1B” guest worker visas, “L” visas for foreign employees of U.S. companies, and “O” visas for those the government considers “extraordinarily” talented.

Johnson worries that it has been more than a decade since business immigration visa law was last brought up to date.

“Nowadays, with outsourcing so common,” he told TheDC, “those jobs can primarily be lost to other nations, or the U.S. company can operates overseas.”

Allowing the immigration of more skilled managers who already work for technology employers like Microsoft or IBM, says the American Immigration Lawyers Association, would also be good for the American economy.

“Individuals are coming to establish a new entity related to their employer abroad, thus planting a seed of opportunity for U.S. workers,” AILA president Eleanor Pelta said.

Johnson claimed that rather than seeing this shortcoming as an economic development issue, the Obama administration and liberals in Congress are postponing change in order to make it part of “comprehensive immigration reform,” a strategy that would include an amnesty proposal for illegal aliens.

“When there are enough qualified U.S. applicants, the government can reduce the number of visas available,” he explained. “But if we ignore the shortages — in engineering, IT and medicine — a U.S. company will set up operations outside the U.S., or outsource the job, and we will have lost another taxpayer.”

Tags : immigration
Gene J. Koprowski