Spring brings opening day for major league baseball and another equally competitive event – who wins the 85,000 H-1B visa quotas for importing skilled (principally technology) workers to the US. In 2013, the quota was exhausted within days, leading to a lottery selection. Immigration lawyers predict even more demand this year.
Lawyers and human resources staff scheme on how to use ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘extraordinary talent’ visa programmes; well-established firms hire folks for an office in another country and then ‘transfer’ them via an L-1 visa once they have worked for the company for at least a year.
Some tech companies are accused of gaming the system by expanding ‘internships’ through what is called the Optional Practical Training programme. Last year, the US approved 123,000 applications from companies to bring in ‘students’ who are allowed to work in the country for as long as 29 months.
While the US has allowed itself to be populated with millions of undocumented folks who have just walked in, it continues to make it difficult to do what many other developed countries have done – recruit and import already educated and trained talent from abroad.
I heard a former president suggest to an oversold New York ballroom that one answer would be to teach Native Americans how to program computers, so the US could, in his words, replace those foreign Indians with our own Indians. No wonder the US has seen fit to create a special visa category even for fashion models.
And the crux of the immigration debate seems to be about how to make the illegal immigrants legal.
Not much is said at the top about how to help assure the country has the talent it needs today to achieve and maintain pre-eminence in innovation and the growth that can result from that.
It’s time someone said 'play ball'.
Daniel Malachuk works with business and government leaders on global direct investment strategies. He has advised many of the world's leading companies and served in the US public sector as director of White House operations.