SALT LAKE CITY — Retired Sen. Orrin Hatch calls for immigration reform to grow the economy and create new American jobs — including a fast track to citizenship for international student graduates and entrepreneurs — in a new report released Monday.
Specifically, the Hatch Center, the policy arm of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, and FWD.us advocate for changes to the visa system for highly skilled foreign workers, many of whom earn degrees at U.S. colleges and universities.
"It is a false choice to say that policymakers must choose between promoting high-skilled immigration or protecting American workers. We can do both," Hatch wrote in an introduction to the report.
"In fact, we must do both," he said. "We must continue to attract overseas talent to sustain the very innovation that has made our nation the most prosperous in the world."
FWD.us President Todd Schulte said Congress hasn't updated the high-skilled immigration system for 25 years. FWD.us was formed by tech and business leaders, including Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, to promote fixing the immigration system.
"Immigrants are good for Americans. They contribute to our economy and grow the middle class,” he said.
FWD.us and the Hatch Center released the report Monday because it marks the day that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service begins accepting H-1B visa petitions for 2020. The program allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in jobs that require highly specialized knowledge or degrees in a specific specialty.
There are 65,000 H-1B visas available, and another 20,000 available for individuals who hold advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. All of the visas have been issued within the first week for the past six years.
Last year, employers filed 190,098 petitions, including 95,855 on behalf of foreign-born professionals who had earned a graduate degree from a U.S. university, but only 85,000 could be approved due to the cap.
Thousands of talented professionals were turned away, including the people who already know English, understand American culture and who have conducted research in the U.S. as graduate students, according to Hatch.
"Simply put, there is a profoundly higher demand for these skilled workers than the current law is able to supply, handicapping American businesses," according to the report.
Congress needs to raise the H-1B cap and tie it to market demand to meet the needs of a modern economy, the report says.
"America’s ability to attract, educate and employ the world’s greatest talent has created a workforce pipeline that has fueled our economy, and we must continue to replenish that pipeline with fresh ideas and skill sets from around the globe," the report says.
The report offers several policies and principles to recruit and retain global talent:
• Tie H-1B visa caps to employer demand to ensure American employers are not arbitrarily restricted access to the global talent pool.
• Increase the number of employment-based visas and provide realistic alternatives to H-1B for employers who want to sponsor skilled immigrants for permanent residency.
• Keep American-trained talent in the U.S. by allowing for an expedited path to citizenship for international student graduates and entrepreneurs that want to work and create jobs in the U.S.
• Prioritize predictability and timeliness for employers and employees.
• Strengthen protections for foreign-born and American workers, and penalize bad actors.