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One Small Step for Immigration Reform | Commentary

In towns and cities across America, highly skilled engineers and scientists are slowly being pushed out the door.

Many earned advanced degrees from American universities. All are helping keep America’s innovation economy growing. And yet, because of a high-skilled immigration system badly in need of reform, we’re pushing them away.

The United States is facing a growing skills deficit. Leading American technology companies have job openings for engineers and scientists, but not enough experts to fill them. In the long term, governments and companies like Intel are tackling this issue with investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Securing America’s long-term prosperity will require a national commitment to encouraging and supporting more U.S. students to pursue these fields as a career.

Today, high-skilled immigration programs like H-1B visas are helping fill the gap, keeping America’s innovation engine running. Talented people from around the world come to the United States, lending their expertise and skills to America’s most innovative companies, helping develop incredible technologies, create new jobs and drive economic growth.

But, like the broader immigration system, there are serious issues that need to be addressed. The arbitrary cap on H-1B visas is hurting our economy. According to a study conducted by Compete America, a coalition of companies, universities and trade associations that advocates for reform of the high-skilled immigration system, the artificially low cap on H-1B visas in 2013 resulted in 100,000 fewer jobs being filled directly and another 400,000 that would have been indirectly created.

And, beyond economics, the current high-skilled immigration system creates unacceptable hardships for H-1B visa holders and their families. With approximately 5 percent of Intel’s U.S. work force here on a visa, this is more than a business issue for us — it’s personal.

Udit Patidar, a software engineer at Intel’s research and development facility in Merrimack, N.H., came to the United States in 2004 to attend the University of Houston and, after conducting years of original research, completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science.

As a result of his specialized training, Intel was able to sponsor his H-1B visa and later, an employment-based green card. However, because only a certain number of visas are allocated per country, Udit’s waiting period is long — 10 years or more.

For the next decade, Udit cannot change jobs. He cannot move to another city, or seek employment with another company without risking his place in the queue. Worse, this impacts his wife, Anusha, as well, a marketing professional who later this month will earn her master’s degree in finance from Harvard. Because of her dependent visa status, she is not allowed to work in the U.S.

As a result, financial and professional need has forced both of these talented people to seriously consider leaving the country, taking their years of training and experience elsewhere.

Unfortunately, their story is not unique and it represents only one of the many problems in our immigration system. Congressional action is needed to address the significant immigration challenges we face and are wrestling with as a nation. However, there are small steps we can take today to invest in our economy and improve the lives of our talented colleagues.

Recently the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule that would permit people like Anusha, whose spouse is a H-1B visa holder currently in line for a green card, to apply for work authorization. This change would bring enormous relief to families across the country and in the process, protect American companies from losing valuable talent to countries abroad.

I urge the broad support for this rule and swift administration approval, moving us one small step forward as Congress works to address the many facets of immigration reform.

Peter Muller is the director of immigration policy for Intel.

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