American business needs immigration reform

Written by Reuters | Updated: Jan 9 2014, 08:15am hrs
One thing the overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, regardless of political party, is the need for immigration reform. Not only is it one of the keys necessary to create a healthier national economy and critical to the USs security, growth, and prosperity, it is also an integral component for the success of American business.

The current employment-based immigration system is broken to the point of disarraybut not to a point of disrepair. The facts speak for themselves:

* In the European Union, work-related visas account for 40% of immigration (excluding intra-EU movement). In the United States, only 6% of foreign workers are granted permanent entry on work-related visas. Outdated institutional quotas are shutting talent and expertise out, when other countries are ushering them in.

* Overall, 36% of those receiving a highly-coveted, highly valuable science, technology, engineering or mathematicsor STEM-relateddoctorate in a US university were students holding temporary visas. The situation is further exacerbated in PhD programs for engineering, mathematics, and computer scienceover half of candidates enrolled are foreign students, studying in the US on temporary student visas. Theyll go home, or elsewhere, equipped with gold-mark US university credentials to put their education to work.

* Between 1993 and 2008, the proportion of scientists and engineers over 50 in the US increased from 18% to 27%. Were simply not preparing to replace those who will soon retire.

While the US has a bright future, we must have policies that enable American business to grow and thrive. Our policies must ensure that the US is competitive around the world for decades to come.

Deloittes nearly 60,000 professionals work daily for over two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies, meaning our services, in some form, touch 17.5 million people, all of whom contribute to the strength and resilience of the US economy. What we experience first-hand and hear from our clients is that American businesses today have the desire, willingness, and potential to do moreto grow more, innovate more, hire more, and contribute more to the country's economy.

But to do it, they need the ability and access to hire the right people for the right jobs. Make no mistake: if we fail to attract the brightest minds and best people, other countries will. This is a global battle for talenta battle the US is determined to win.

To keep the US on top as the desired destination for doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs, startups and headquarters of multinationals, to keep the US the place where anyone can realise their dreams if theyre willing to put in the work, we need to take four strategic steps.

First, we must uphold a continued commitment to higher education for Americans. Well create the jobs of the future here at home by attracting future entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists to study at the most prestigious, technologically advanced universitiesand then inviting them to stay, get to work, and make their homes here, in the US.

Second, we must quickly increase access to highly skilled professionals by raising the H-1B visa cap. This past year, the H-1B visa quota was met six months before the federal governments fiscal year commenceda record of 124,000 H-1B visa applications were received by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for only 65,000 coveted slots. Even as US universities churn out highly skilled professionalsthe envy of the worldthere remains a steady demand for foreign talent to complement our domestic workforce. Making bright minds brilliant at our places of learning does the US no good if we send those students packing after graduation.

Third, we must increase the number of available employment-based green cards. The principle of supply and demand informs us that the US economyin sectors from agriculture to manufacturing, computer science to physical sciencecan absorb more talent. We have set arbitrarily low, artificial limits on who can obtain a green cardand correcting this will stoke real, measurable growth with more human energy.

Last, to ensure stability and predictability for American businesses, we must ensure a consistent visa processing system, one that includes strategic enforcement of the immigration laws already in place.

We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to bring real solutions to a system that isnt working as we need it to. Our current immigration policies are not just hurting those looking to come to the US, but those already here, by stifling opportunities for tremendous growth.

The need is immediate. The solutions are sound. Its time for policymakers to take action to achieve a goal we can all get behind: elevating the quality of life of all Americans, and securing the future for American business.

Joe Echevarria

The author is the CEO, Deloitte, LLP