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Congress should act on Hatch’s I-Squared Act

Senator Orrin Hatch
Senator Orrin Hatch
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

We've all gotten used to dramatic and rapid changes in consumer technology. Companies that were dominant yesterday are gone today, and many that will be on top tomorrow haven't even been started yet. Historically, the center of change was Silicon Valley. Even if we didn't know who was creating the new ideas and launching the latest startups, we knew where they were likely to be found.

Our outdated immigration system threatens that global leadership. It's a system that was cobbled together in the Cold War, and it does ridiculous things like placing unreasonably low limits on things like the flow of highly skilled workers into this country.

Congress should move quickly to approve the Immigration Innovation Act introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch. The Immigration Innovation, or "I-Squared," Act would reset the limits on H-1B visas to figures that reflect 21st-century demand for scientists, programmers, engineers and other professionals who help us create even more jobs. And the I-Squared Act would ease restrictions on green cards for people with advanced degrees in the STEM fields.

Workers with the most in-demand skills won't just sit around if we put them to work growing the American economy. Not all of them want to move here, of course — but we should realize that we're either recruiting them to drive innovation here, or we're competing against them when they live somewhere else.

The world has far more demand for knowledgeable workers than it has supply of them. Every time we pass up the opportunity to put them to work here, we're not only missing out for our own good, we're actually making our competitors even tougher to beat.

Highly skilled workers put other people to work. Some of them do it directly, of course, and immigrants have been founders of a disproportionate number of the startup firms that have revolutionized much of daily life.

But even when they're working for others, highly skilled workers are "force multipliers." Once an engineer designs a bridge, for example, she sets in motion the work of surveyors, design technicians, construction workers and many others. Yet it all starts with the highly skilled work.

The results of their creations also save the rest of us time, money and effort. Millions of office workers owe an ongoing debt of gratitude to the computer programmers whose products make the rest of us vastly more productive. We couldn't sustain our modern economy on manual typewriters and handwritten accounting ledgers.

The I-Squared Act is an urgently needed step forward for immigration reform. It has bipartisan support, and its main outcome will be to give a much-needed boost to the American economy. The Partnership for a New American Economy has found that for every two foreign students who study in the U.S. for a STEM degree and stay here, more than five jobs are created for American-born workers.

With other parts of the world struggling, the time to extend our advantages is right now. Closing the door to highly skilled workers doesn't mean they won't build and create — it just means they won't be contributing here.

Lew Cramer is CEO and president of Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisors. He is the former CEO of the World Trade Center Utah (2006-2013). He has also served as director general of the U.S. Commercial Service.