Last November’s election brought significant changes to Washington, DC. President Trump is not your typical politician. Some of his actions have generated controversy, particularly in the Bay Area. But one thing is beyond dispute: he is focused like a laser on creating and keeping jobs here in the United States.
The Bay Area—and Silicon Valley in particular—has been an engine of American job growth for decades. This has been due in large part to the incredible talent companies have been able to attract from across the country and across the world.
Unfortunately, employers today often face a shortage of qualified workers. Many positions require specific skills that involve years of advanced technical and scientific training. This problem is particularly acute in the tech sector, where employers need workers with intricate knowledge of computer science and engineering.
For years, we’ve had a process for bringing high-skilled workers from other countries to the United States to fill jobs for which there is a shortage of American labor. This system does not replace American jobs; rather, it supplements our workforce with talent from other countries in industries where there are simply not enough qualified American workers to meet market demand.
But the system is out-of-date. Our immigration laws cap the number of high-skilled worker visas—also called H-1B visas—that employers may obtain each year at a number that is far below demand.
Our laws also lack a straightforward path for companies to hire foreign students at American universities on a permanent basis after graduation. We educate some of the world’s best and brightest here in America and then send them back home because they can’t get permanent work in the U.S. This makes no sense.
At the same time, a handful of companies have found ways to game the H-1B system to displace American employees with lower-paid foreign workers. That was never the intent of our immigration laws, and it must not be allowed to continue.
For the past two Congresses, I’ve championed legislation to bring our outmoded high-skilled immigration system into the 21st Century. My bill, the Immigration Innovation Act or “I-Squared,” would make it easier for employers to find the high-skilled workers they need to grow their companies and create new jobs.
I’m working on updating I-Squared for the new Congress and plan to reintroduce it in the coming weeks.
Among other things, the updated bill will contain a streamlined green card process for high-skilled workers and strict penalties for companies that use H-1B workers to displace American employees. It will also create a better procedure for H-1B workers who wish to stay in the United States long-term to change jobs so that employers cannot lock them in at below-market wages.
I know that many in Silicon Valley and surrounding communities have expressed concerns about the new administration’s immigration policies. But I believe high-skilled immigration is an area where the tech community and the administration can work together. President Trump comes to office with a business background and recognizes the crucial need for qualified workers.
As a longtime proponent of the tech community and as the Chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, I can serve as a bridge between the President and Silicon Valley. I have a good working relationship with the President and a deep understanding of the issues that matter to the tech industry.
With a new and improved I-Squared as our guide, I’m convinced we can enact meaningful high-skilled immigration reform so that employers can hire the employees they need to grow our economy and create even more high-paying jobs.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is the chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force and the former chairman and longest-serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
By Senator Orrin Hatch
The Mercury News