SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: Dec 13, 2013, 5:00am CST
Immigration reform: A personal and professional case
Bruce Ballengee, Guest Column
No doubt our national leaders have a lot on their plates right now, but immigration reform still hasn’t been served up. We cannot afford to let it simmer on our back burner.
In Texas, we know our state has been a focal point for both legal and illegal immigration activity for decades, and Texas lawmakers have a critical role in shaping our immigration system. As a lifelong Texan and a businessman, I have both personal and professional experience with the fundamental impact of our immigration system on the lives and livelihoods of the people of our state and throughout the United States. Through the lens of this experience, the case for comprehensive immigration reform is extremely compelling.
On a personal level, my daughter-in-law is an immigrant from Colombia. As a top graduate from one of the most elite schools in Colombia, she brought a valuable breadth of skills and knowledge to our country that has allowed her to thrive throughout her Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt performing research supported by the U.S. Army. She is a chemical engineer researching and developing biomedical technologies to regenerate bone. These technologies will be applied to heal and regenerate the limbs of people who suffer devastating injuries, especially our soldiers. She is named on three patent applications, has published eight papers with two pending and is directly contributing to the defense of our country through her cutting-edge, specialty research. Such a highly qualified individual should be welcome to work here in the United States on the basis of merit alone.
Had my son, another Ph.D. chemical engineer whose fuel cell research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, and his wife been unable to navigate the extraordinarily difficult and complex application process for her green card as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, (there is an even more byzantine bureaucracy established for people not married to citizens) they would have been forced to make a nearly impossible decision. Either relocate to another country and pray to be granted one of the incredibly scarce high-skill working visas allocated under our existing system, or permanently move their lives, and by implication future family, to a country with a functional immigration system, bringing with them their talent, skill and knowledge that we need here in the United States. The sad truth is this is only one story that is replicated across our country on a daily basis as a result of our current immigration system. So many highly skilled immigrants are not nearly as fortunate as my daughter-in-law, and our system continuously fails to retain talent that the technology industry desperately needs.
On the flipside of this issue are our businesses. When I co-founded Pariveda Solutions in Texas in 2003, I was in a dynamic and expanding market for technology. Between 2011 and 2012, Texas added more than 10,000 high-tech jobs. Wages in these positions are on average 85 percent higher than other private sector positions, reflecting high demand for these high-skilled workers. We boast nearly 500,000 high-tech jobs that employ 5.5 percent of private sector workers, ranking us second in the country in overall employment in high-tech industries. As the global technology industry expands, demand and shortages for highly skilled workers continues to grow.
These shortages contrast starkly with the consequences of our current immigration policies. Each year under the existing system, only 13 percent of immigration visas are issued in specialty fields. Simultaneously, our dearth of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has left unfilled nearly 100,000 critical U.S.-based positions in innovative high-tech firms despite our high level of national unemployment. Without reforms, this number will increase to 230,000 by 2018. Without qualified people in the United States to fill these positions, businesses will move these jobs and opportunities offshore to remain competitive in a global economy.
This doesn’t make sense to me as a father-in-law or businessman. In a knowledge-driven global economy our critical technology companies are demanding the very high-skilled workers our immigration system rejects. Our immigration laws exacerbate our high-skill shortage by preventing increases in our domestic supply, forcing the jobs themselves out of our country. Rather than correcting our labor market deficiencies, it reinforces them by making highly skilled and talented immigrants who hold the keys to unlocking the secrets of future breakthroughs in science, engineering and mathematics jump through hoops or wait in endless lines to have even a chance of legally joining our workforce and living here. This applies even to graduates who have been educated here in the United States with U.S. taxpayer dollars. In so doing, our system drives the most-talented, motivated and desirable individuals toward our foreign competitors rather than allowing them to build businesses, create jobs and drive economic growth and innovation here in the United States. While we can look for solutions in our domestic education systems to increase the supply of high-skilled workers, once implemented, such solutions will require decades to ease our growing shortages. We don’t have decades to dally at the dinner table. Immigration reform must be served up now.
The proposals before Congress address many of these issues by strengthening the security of our borders and setting up a contemporary, merit-based immigration system. By expanding the available number of high-skill working visas, the labor demands of our fast-growing, high-tech industries can be met by brilliant, well-educated graduates from around the world, allowing businesses to grow and communities to flourish, while fostering strong economic growth. Most importantly, it will allow those individuals and families that contribute to our economy and society to continue doing so in productive and valuable ways without fear of losing their legal status. To reach our full economic potential and modernize and strengthen our country, Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Many of our ancestors emigrated here from other countries. My children can trace back to England, France, Germany and Greece. Most readers of this column will have similar stories to share. This is an essential ingredient of our exceptional country. Emigration is central to our own state of Texas’ unique journey to statehood. Should not our immigration system align with our national heritage?
Bruce Ballengee is CEO of Pariveda Solutions, a technology consulting company based in Dallas.
See the article online here. via Dallas Business Journal