Twenty years after China’s ascension to the World Trade Organization, America has finally taken action against the threats posed by the People’s Republic. At least, that is what Democrats on Capitol Hill are telling us. Last week, House Democrats rushed through the “America COMPETES Act,” a bill purported to counter Chinese industrial espionage and unfair trade practices and reinvigorate American manufacturing.
Many people support efforts to reinvigorate American manufacturing and STEM education, particularly in light of the threat from China. Strengthening American manufacturing and advancing American scientific research is a noble cause that Congress must address. Offshoring manufacturing and outsourcing American labor has destroyed communities and livelihoods throughout our nation and left us at the mercy of sometimes hostile nations for vital goods and resources.
This bill, while well-intentioned, falls short of doing anything to counter Chinese aggression. Even worse, it contains immigration provisions that raise serious economic and national security concerns, effectively undercutting any positive aspects of the legislation.
First, the bill grants Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and refugee status for qualifying residents of Hong Kong and their families. The America COMPETES Act not only does this, but also provides 25,000 special interest visas for “highly-skilled” Hong Kong residents. The text follows the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, a bill that empowers China’s ruling party by giving pro-democracy Hong Kong residents a pass out of the beleaguered city.
Much like the wholesale exodus of dissidents from Cuba cemented Fidel Castro’s grip on power, ridding Hong Kong of its democratic activists and leaders is exactly what China wants. However well-intended, the inclusion of this provision will not preserve freedom for Hong Kong. It will instead empower Beijing and undermine our own vital interests.
Second, the America COMPETES Act creates a brand-new nonimmigrant visa category for “entrepreneurs and employees.” The bill establishes a new “W” category that includes entrepreneurs with an ownership interest in a start-up entity, essential employees of said entity, and the spouses and children of both the entity’s owners and employees. Every one of these individuals can adjust their status and pursue a green card. This is nothing more than another “investor visa” category similar to the fraud-ridden EB-5 and E category investors.
Investor visa programs may sound like a great idea on paper, but like other libertarian ideas, fall apart in practice. Legislators promised that the EB-5, for example, would allow wealthy foreigners to invest in rural and underserved parts of the United States. Supporters of these schemes argue that these investments generate American jobs and revitalize struggling localities. This does not happen. Instead, wealthy foreigners abuse the rules and buy their way into the United States without creating any material benefits for Americans.
Congress would be better served finding ways to encourage and build upon American entrepreneurial ventures, rather than establishing another “golden visa” program that degrades American citizenship by relegating it to a dollar amount.
Lastly, the America COMPETES Act provides an unlimited number of green cards for high-skilled foreign nationals – such as “outstanding professors and researchers,” a well-known source of Chinese espionage. The bill does nothing to prevent Chinese nationals, often beholden to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), from benefiting from this carve-out. In fact, it will be the Chinese who likely use this avenue into the U.S. the most. According to the most recent data, more than a quarter of all student visas went to Chinese nationals, as well as over 12% of employment-based green cards. What will stop them from taking a large portion of these green cards for “outstanding professors and researchers?” This provision gives China an even greater opportunity to infiltrate our universities and laboratories with their spies.
Not only is this dangerous, it does nothing to assist American-grown STEM talent. The whole point of this bill is to build up American-based manufacturing and encourage STEM research. Is America so incapable of doing this with its own citizens that we have to import researchers from China, the very country we’re trying to counter through this bill?
These immigration provisions water down the otherwise noble intentions of this legislation. Outsourcing labor and offshoring companies got us into the imbalance we currently have with China. Importing more foreign labor is not the answer to competition from China. Instead, we need to invest in Americans right here in America. Building up domestic STEM talent and reestablishing incentives to bring manufacturing home is something that will take a generation to achieve. It isn’t something that Congress can fix overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.
The America COMPETES Act falls short of its stated goals, and all of its immigration provisions must be stripped when it is reconciled with the Senate’s bipartisan China-competition bill that passed back in June. Once a conference committee is formed, House Democrats should work with their colleagues in the upper chamber to build a bipartisan, results-oriented bill that invests in American talent, makes it easier to reestablish American manufacturing, and most importantly, makes it harder for the CCP to benefit from American universities, laboratories, and technological innovations.
Preston Huennekens is government relations manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.