American innovation has always hinged on having the best talent: bright scientists, thorough researchers and skilled engineers. Throughout history, many of our country’s most significant scientific, medical, business, architectural, athletic and artistic achievements can be attributed to immigrants. Two impactful examples come to mind. The first is Noubar Afeyan, who, while born in Lebanon, immigrated from Canada to the U.S. and is the co-founder and Chairman of the biotech company Moderna. The other is Satya Nadella, born in India, who first came to the U.S. on a temporary visa and today serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft. Recognizing the importance of immigrants and their meaningful contributions to our country, my law firm, Munsch Hardt, recently secured a visa for a Ukrainian scientist whose research and patented optic technology designs for a U.S.-based company help ophthalmologists examine and treat eyes. Without this immigrant’s contributions, this groundbreaking technology might not exist. In order to continue evolving as a country and compete on a global scale, we must be able to hire international talent at a time when we are experiencing labor shortages at home across key skilled industries.
The immigration system we currently have in place to bring highly skilled individuals to the U.S. is perhaps our biggest detriment. More than 480,000 people have already applied for the high-skilled H-1B visa this year. All of these applications are for professional jobs requiring advanced education, with many demanding a high level of STEM expertise. With only 85,000 visas available, all of which are distributed via lottery, 82 percent of applicants will be rejected. This disparity has ripple effects. Studies show that when companies can fill these crucial, high-level roles, they outsource fewer jobs abroad and ultimately hire more Americans.
Adding more high-skilled visas isn’t the only problem. Once these professional and STEM workers are in the U.S., they face tremendous hurdles and delays in obtaining permanent residency. Most employment-based visas, including the H-1B visa, are limited in duration and require workers to obtain a green card in order to stay in the U.S. long-term. But a green card backlog, now at 1.6 million immigrants, keeps applicants in limbo for decades. While the Biden administration recently introduced new rules that should help U.S. companies hire more foreign-born workers in crucial sectors like environmental sciences, data analytics and other STEM fields, only Congress can create permanent solutions to address these hurdles.
In 2020, there were 1.36 million job openings for computer-related roles, with only a 1.9 percent unemployment rate in the industry. Streamlining the path for foreign-born workers will help companies fill these critical positions and maintain growth. According to new data recently published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. could see a shortage of up to 139,000 doctors by 2033. At my firm, I work with healthcare organizations in obtaining visas for their physicians, as well as other hospital staff, such as executive roles, physical therapists, nurses and IT personnel. Without these key foreign-born employees, staffing shortages throughout our medical system would be even worse than they are today.
U.S. companies need more skilled talent, and in order for the U.S. to continue benefiting from their contributions, foreign workers must have the option to work and live here as permanent residents. Depending on their country of nationality, foreign-born workers can be in the queue to obtain a green card for decades. Employees don’t have the flexibility to change employment while they are waiting, as nonimmigrant visas are employer- and worksite-specific. Changes that would seem inconsequential for U.S. workers, such as the addition of job duties or a company’s move to an office a short distance away, could be catastrophic for employees on work visas and put them at risk of losing their status. Employers often have to file multiple extensions, and renewals and pay legal and filing fees while employees await a green card. All of this is a tremendous burden to both U.S. employers and immigrant employees.
When I see one of my clients obtain a patent for an exciting innovation or contribute to saving lives at U.S. hospitals, I feel proud. It is frustrating to think future contributions could be put at risk with one visa rejection. The U.S. must improve the immigration system if we want to continue attracting and retaining top talent that helps our businesses prosper and allows us to remain competitive within the global economy.
Elvia Munoz is a shareholder in Munsch Hardt’s immigration practice. Her practice focuses on business immigration, with an emphasis on executive and managerial personnel transfers, H-1B visas for professional workers, employment-based permanent immigration proceedings and employers’ I-9 compliance. Recognized by Chambers USA – Texas as an “Associate to Watch,” clients view Elvia as a “strong business partner” and leader in her field. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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