Business left high and dry by immigration dodge

By Bart Taylor | Sep 09, 2014

One measure of today’s political dysfunction is the inability of elected officials to govern at the margins. For business, immigration is a stark example.

Last year the U.S. Senate passed the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”, Senate Bill 744. Today it sits idle in the House, stalled indefinitely and its meaningful pieces sidetracked by the politics of ‘pathways’ and the status of millions of undocumented immigrants.

It’s unfortunate. Business would benefit from incremental progress on immigration.

The Bill is actually comprised of five distinct parts: Border Security (Title I), Immigrant Visas (Title II), Interior Enforcement (Title III), Reforms to Nonimmigrant Visa Programs (Title IV), and Jobs for Youth (Title V). And it’s here that we’re so poorly served. As a practical matter, business today would benefit greatly if Congressional leaders would set aside the 'status' issue, just for a moment, to find consensus on its other parts. SB 744 passed on a bipartisan basis last year. There are plenty of opportunities to agree.

Senate Bill 744 makes “enormous” investments, according to some, in border security, envisioning a truly staggering 38,405 full-time Border Patrol agents along the southern border and $46.3 billion in initial funding. In 1993, the annual budget for the U.S. border patrol was $363 million dollars.

There's also mechanism's to identify specialized labor. Components of Title II provide immediate relief to employers seeking qualified immigrant help. 744 creates a new “merit based point system with two tracks that award points to immigrants with educational credentials, work experience, and other qualifications.”

Additionally, key reforms in employment-based immigration would ease bottlenecks in current law by eliminating country-specific limits and exempting “highly-skilled and exceptionally talented immigrants” from the worldwide cap, including STEM graduates.

Consider the plight of Colorado manufacturers. A number of factors have contributed to a substantial ‘skills-gap’ in the manufacturing workforce. Last year, nearly 20,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in Colorado for a lack of qualified candidates.

Today it’s not much different. Across industries, manufacturers are searching for talent.

Industry will tell you that domestically, we’ve failed to train a generation of manufacturing employees, that there’s simply not a qualified pool of up and coming candidates to replace retiring workers or staff promising new businesses. That we’ve dissed manufacturing and trade careers while offshoring a sizable portion of our making prowess, at the same time we’ve fast-tracked kids into four-year degree programs that are expensive, or ill fitting.

The timing is particularly bad today, as manufacturing is surging. And unfortunately, there is no fast and easy fix. As aware education and policy wonks have become about the skills gap, we’re years away from delivering a steady flow of interested, engaged, qualified workers to industry.

Today Colorado companies and their regional counterparts in Utah and the Mountain West would benefit greatly from the opportunity to access appropriately trained, easily assimilated immigrant labor. The bipartisan Senate Bill envisions this scenario.

Marginal reform, if not comprehensive agreement on the status of Immigrant Visas, would be a boon to business including manufacturers. Debate the 'status' issue; it's important. But reform isn't a single-issue proposition. Make progress.

It’s not too much to ask.