By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Some believe the United States isn’t gaining enough brains to stay competitive.
In the United States, the H1B visa allowed U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, as defined by the regulations. At the beginning of each fiscal year in October, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins making visas available, though it starts accepting applications from employers six months prior.
There are only 85,000 ‘cap-subject’ H1B visas available each fiscal year (though there are ‘cap-exempt’ visas available for those working at universities or nonprofit research facilities, for example). Visas are given on a first-come, first-served basis. As of Sept. 23, about 54,000 applications for H1B visas had already been filed. Typically, these visas get scooped up fast. In years past, it was a matter of two months before the cap was reached.
Each year, many American employers, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, lobby Congress to lift the H1B cap, stating that it is too restrictive and companies cannot hire the workers they need.
“We heard from the entrepreneurs in the community and they articulated a concern that there are not adequate avenues for the best and brightest students who come here to the U.S. for education to remain here in the U.S. to use the skills and knowledge they have gained for the good of this country,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas in a conference call. “What we see is an exodus instead. We educate and we train, and because the access is not available to them, they leave and they contribute to other countries.”
Hundreds of doctors, scientists, and engineers who enter the United States legally are also now stuck in line for a permanent visa. According to two reports from the National Foundation for American Policy, “A highly skilled Indian national sponsored today for the most common skilled employment-based immigrant visa (the EB3) could wait 70 years to receive a green card.”
According to the reports, the majority of employer-sponsored immigrants are from India and China and the wait times are the longest for these immigrants due to volume.
Mayorkas was with President Barack Obama on Oct. 11, when he stepped away for the conference call. The president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and USCIS announced the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative that day in Pittsburgh.
Venture capital firms and business schools have long practiced bringing in a seasoned entrepreneur in residence for a limited amount of time to train and mentor staff and students, launch new ideas or products, or generally provide some sort of expertise in an area — and the USCIS has decided to follow the same practice.
“Entrepreneurs in Residence is a two-tier model,” said Mayorkas. “The premise is on the basic principle that our agency would benefit tremendously from having experts in the public and private sectors joining us. We will have info summits … experts will come and share with us the realities and the challenges that people confront when dealing with the U.S. immigration system. … The second tier is a tactical team approach, to take the guidance that we receive … and to execute and implement.”
“This initiative creates additional opportunities for the USCIS to gain insights in areas critical to economic growth,” said Mayorkas. “The introduction of expert views from the private and public sectors will help us to ensure that our policies and processes fully realize the immigration law’s potential to create and protect American jobs.”
Increasing or lifting the cap is a legislative issue that requires congressional approval, so the USCIS is trying to work within the system by gathering the advice of experts, who will weigh in on how to refine the system and streamline it by employing tweaks that do not require congressional approval.
“We as an agency have been focused, in the absence of legislative action, to create newer, broader pathways for the best and brightest in the world to come to the U.S. and really take advantage of the opportunities here to enable our economy to grow and create jobs for American workers,” said Mayorkas.
Earlier this year, USCIS streamlined the EB5 visa program, which grants permanent residency to foreigners who invest a minimum of $500,000 in U.S. companies that create or preserve 10 jobs in the country. (end)
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.