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Time to pass Immigration Innovation Act

The Immigration Innovation ("I-Squared") Act of 2015 is a high-skilled workers immigration reform bill recently re-introduced by Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch.
The Immigration Innovation ("I-Squared") Act of 2015 is a high-skilled workers immigration reform bill recently re-introduced by Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

It’s not often that Congress and the president have the opportunity to do something to improve the economy and create high-paying jobs — while at the same time showing citizens that Washington can get past gridlock and dysfunction and enact important public policy.

That’s the opportunity Congress has with the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2015, the high-skilled workers immigration reform bill recently re-introduced by Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Certainly, immigration policy has been a matter of heated debate in Washington, with the Republican Congress — especially the House — at odds with the Obama administration.

But no reason exists for the I-Squared Act to be controversial. It has nothing to do with illegal immigrants who sneak across the border. It has nothing to do with political ideology or the president’s executive action on immigration. It would simply expand existing programs by boosting the number of visas for high-skilled graduates of U.S. universities and increasing green-card opportunities.

It is supported by many members of Congress of both parties. It has broad support in the business community, especially the engineering and high-tech industries that can’t find enough workers to fill the thousands of jobs available.

It is so common-sense, straightforward and so beneficial to the country that Congress and the president ought to endorse it, rally around it and show that Washington can, after all, accomplish important public policy.

The reality is that Utah and the United States face a massive shortfall of science, technology, engineering and mathematics employees. Industry projects a shortfall of 200,000 advanced-degree STEM jobs by 2018 — even if every American STEM graduate gets a job. More than one-fourth of science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring enough workers.

No evidence exists that foreign-born STEM graduates reduce opportunities for U.S. workers or reduce wages. In fact, the opposite is true. Foreign-born graduates create American jobs and revenue by starting new firms that provide high-paying jobs. A study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that each foreign-born advanced-degree graduate we train and employ here leads to the creation of 2.6 American jobs.

The truth is that highly skilled immigrants are helping power America’s innovation economy. In recent years, nearly half the doctorates and more than half of the post-doctorates in science and engineering at U.S. universities were foreign-born. We are training foreign scientists, and we need to keep them in the United States so they create value here instead of competing with us overseas.

Other Utah leaders agree that Sen. Hatch’s legislation needs to pass. Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the reforms “address critical needs for the high-tech sector with H-1B visas and employment-based green cards. Reforming the visa program for high-skilled workers is crucial to meeting the labor demand in our growing tech industry. This is an important step forward and will help keep Utah’s economy strong.”

Derek Miller, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, said immigration reform is needed for Utah and the United States to remain globally competitive. “To fix our broken system, Congress must find common ground and pass immigration reform legislation that won’t be immediately vetoed when it lands on the desk of the president. Sen. Hatch’s bill is exactly the type of legislation that will help achieve this goal.”

American citizens want Congress to stop bickering, end the dysfunction and address the nation’s important priorities. Passing this bill will show the nation that Congress and the president can address the nation’s problems.

Further study is not needed; courage and action are needed. I hope the entire Utah delegation will support this legislation.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.