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Immigration Reform Would Impact Manufacturers

Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the top priorities of the Obama administration. This includes reforms that will keep highly skilled workers in the United States, as well as the creation of a new system to bring skilled workers into the country when Americans aren’t available to fill jobs.

Lisa Buddecke, Kelsar Industries (Q2 / Spring 2013)
Reforming immigration policy that improves Visa access and a pathway to citizenship for highly skilled workers is one important aspect that could impact industry as well as foreign workers. U.S. manufacturers are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, and skilled workers are vital to promoting business growth and market competitiveness — even the future of America’s manufacturing economy. However, immediate immigration reform that would put highly skilled immigrant workers on the fast track for Visa access is not supported by everyone.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) also has called on Congress to include specific changes to the immigration system for highly skilled workers in any comprehensive reform package. Immigration reform, specifically addressing those in high-skilled STEM fields, is needed in order to meet work force needs and bring technically skilled talent workers to the United States, according to ITIF. While other nations have policies to attract foreign high-skilled workers, the U.S. does not — and that’s hurting our global competitiveness.

“Improving the system regulating high-skilled immigration needs to be a key focus of any immigration reform bill,” according to Robert Atkinson, president of ITIF “We cannot continue to fall behind other nations in attracting the highly skilled individuals to our shores.”

Current special Visa laws addressing skilled foreign workers allow for temporary U.S. employment in fields where domestic workers don’t meet industry demand. According to ITIF, the current 65,000 cap on Visas allowed under this scenario does not satisfy the domestic worker shortage. Both business and manufacturers are looking for effective reforms that will fix flaws in the current system, while strengthening the economy and helping expand our work force without impacting American workers. In mid-April, comprehensive immigration reform legislation developed by the bipartisan Gang of Eight — Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) — was welcomed by many. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) announced their support of the bill as it appears to address many of the necessary reforms.

“In today’s competitive global marketplace, small and large manufacturers in the United States need workers at every skill level,” said Caterpillar Inc. Chairman and CEO and NAM Board Chair Doug Oberhelman. “Immigration reform needs to work for manufacturers and our employees, not against us.”

Some of the bill specifics include recognition status for those living in the United States; increased access to highly skilled individuals who drive research and production; a new program to address future work force needs for differing skill levels; a more robust verification system; and increased border security. It’s hoped that the bill will not only help immigrant tech-savvy workers fill open positions now, but will also address delays in Visa processing.

While efforts are already under way by pro-legislation groups to gather support for the reform bill, those opposed to the bill are planning to make their concerns heard as well. Nonetheless, the bipartisan proposal may be the most concrete step so far in addressing the many complex challenges of comprehensive immigration reform.
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