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Immigration Reforms Fall Short of High Tech's Needs

Now that the RAISE act aimed at reforming immigration is out in the open, we can take its measure. Alas, most of the Trump White House's ideas are too restrictive and don’t respect the wishes of the free market

Statue of Liberty head closeupOn Aug. 2, President Trump took to the airwaves to introduce the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy, or RAISE, act. His self-described aim, as quoted on AOL News is to create "a skills-based immigration system that will make America more competitive, raise wages for American workers, and create jobs.”


With typical Trumpian candor, the president adds “Americans deserve a raise.” Steve Levy, at the more left-leaning Mountain View Voice provides more detail on what this proposal involves. He breaks the RAISE act into four bullet points:


● Restrict and/or reduce family-based immigration.
● Retain the cap of 140,000 labor market based admission (H1-B visas and related entry/work permits) switched over to a point system.
● Cap refugee admissions to 500,000 per year.
● Eliminate the diversity lottery for immigration admission.


All of these elements have interesting implications for U.S. employers seeking to bridge the skills and talent gap emerging for STEM-related jobs, particularly those in information technology and related fields.


The net impact of the RAISE act would be to cut annual immigration by about 50 percent, from its current level of 1 million persons to just over 500,000 persons. Levy asserts (and I agree) that the United States needs more, not fewer, legal immigrants. Levy (and I) are both inclined to an immigration system based on labor market needs, as is also true for many labor market economists.


Even CompTIA, in their recently released Immigration Reform white paper “Creating a 21st Century Workforce” (dated July 2017) concurs that a market cap on H1-B visas and improved mechanisms for STEM graduates to stay and work in the United States after finishing advanced degrees (MA or MS and Ph.D, primarily) offer the best hope to let the United States fill high-tech and IT jobs that might otherwise go begging in the future.


Thus, I can’t help but add my voice to the many others who are taking issue with the fundamentals built into the RAISE Act. I disagree with the hard cap on labor market admissions, and think it should be set by employer demand, so that any business with a need for skilled employees can hire them, even if they must come from outside the United States.


My only concern there is that wage protection should be somehow baked into this market cap idea, so that immigrants and domestic workers alike will be offered the same, going wage for open positions. We don’t want to see immigrants become a downward level on already stagnant wages (or actually depressing wages below current levels).


I also agree entirely with CompTIA’s notions that those who come to the United States to earn advanced degrees in STEM fields should not just be allowed to stay to work here when they finish their educations, but that they be actively encouraged to do so, and recruited into those jobs that might otherwise go unfilled.


This can’t help but be good for the overall U.S. economy. It would likely also help to boost overall wages, ultimately, which have been entirely flat (either just at or under inflation levels) since the great bust of 2008/2009.