Can Immigration Reform Boost High-Skilled Manufacturing?
January 29, 2013
A comprehensive immigration reform policy that provides improved access to visas for high-skilled workers could provide a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants. These skilled employees have the potential to boost American manufacturing companies and help bridge the talent gap. President Obama and various industry groups support such reforms, but they may be facing an uphill battle. High-skilled workers fuel business and boost competitiveness. While a shortage of skilled workers remains a critical challenge in the manufacturing industry, various leaders - including tech lobbyists, politicians, and a newly formed immigration coalition supported by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) - say immigration reform is important for supporting the industrial sector and the future of the U.S. economy. During his inauguration address "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said in his speech. Leaders in the technology sector voiced similar sentiments at a POLITICO Pro Tech Deep Dive "What we're doing by cutting off the highly-skilled immigrants is so harmful to our future. It's as bad as us not dealing with the deficit issue, and ironically, one thing could help solve the other. Immigrants create economic activity," said Shapiro, who also noted that over 50 percent of PhDs in engineering are earned by foreign nationals. Such degree holders, if kicked out of the U.S., could create competing businesses abroad. Although unemployment is still high in the U.S., many companies - particularly manufacturing firms - are struggling to find qualified workers One active coalition that advocates immigration reform as a potential solution to the STEM workers shortage, inSPIRE STEM USA "By reforming the H1-B visa system, manufacturers can fill existing jobs today while strengthening the U.S. STEM education pipeline to ensure that U.S. college graduates are able to fill those jobs tomorrow," NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said in a coalition announcement While advocates insist that reform will improve high-tech competitiveness, previous efforts to pass such legislation in 2007 were unsuccessful, as concern over illegal immigrants spurred a national debate. Yet a new willingness to pass reform may emerge in the wake of President Obama's reelection, according to the Hill This week, a bi-partisan group of eight senators, led by New York's Charles Schumer, released a new immigration reform plan that includes tighter border security, more guest worker permits, and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The group denies that the proposed reform is amnesty, stating that under the plan, immigrants would be subjected to fines, back taxes, and criminal background checks, and would have to learn English. "For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it," Schumer said in announcing the plan. However, research from Medill Reports