The Real Cost of our Failed Immigration Policies

Authored by Diane E. Metzger

Mar 18, 2016

From the St. Louis Business Journal, March 18 – 24, 2016

Every day I see how our archaic immigration system fails to meet the needs of our businesses and how much it costs our clients. As a businesswoman this concerns me; as an immigration attorney, it calls me to action. If we want to remain competitive nationally and globally, we need to attract and retain the best talent possible, something that our failed immigration policies are making impossible for our clients to do.

Each year, only 85,000 new H-1B visas for high-skilled workers are available. Last year nearly 233,000 employers applied for one of these coveted H-1B visas for high-skilled workers such as engineers, doctors and IT professionals. Many employers apply several years in a row, only to become discouraged by the abysmal selection rate and give up. Frustrated, others are preparing to file again, for the upcoming once-a-year April 1 deadline, to be included in an archaic lottery that will determine whether they can attract and retain the talent their businesses need to succeed.

As difficult as our current immigration policies are today, some of our leading presidential candidates say they would make it even more difficult to attract and retain high-skilled foreign workers. Because we already have a shortage of these talented people, additional restrictions will hurt—not help—our economy.

One of our clients, a global electronics components manufacturer, transferred an employee from an overseas branch to the U.S. to advance the design and development of a key product. For the past two years the manufacturer has tried to obtain an H-1B visa for this talented employee, but both years the application was not selected in the lottery. If the application is not selected this year (the 3rd attempt), the employee may have to leave the U.S.—taking with him much needed technical skills and experience.

Last week I spoke with a local university graduate who is eligible to stay and work in the U.S. for one year to gain experience in his field of study. Due to government processing delays, he is still waiting for his work card permitting him to work. By the time the card comes, it will be too late. He has attractive job offers in Europe that he intends to pursue given the immigration uncertainties here. After all, if he stays and applies for an H-1B visa, his chances of being selected are small. More lost talent leaving our city.

While I can only offer war stories as an immigration attorney, others have crunched the actual numbers. Former Saint Louis University professor Jack Strauss’ study, The Economic Impact of Immigration on St. Louis, shows that immigration, especially from skilled H-1B workers, spurs regional economic growth, increases local wages, and actually creates jobs.

So whether you are afraid of “brain drain” or you agree that immigrants can help improve our local economy, one thing is certain: our current laws hurt our companies and must change.

Diane Metzger is an Immigration and Employment Attorney at Lowenbaum Law in Clayton, MO. She is a graduate of Saint Louis University where she received her B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, her J.D., cum laude and her Executive Masters in International Business summa cum laude.

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