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Organizations Provide Ideas for Immigration Reform

As comprehensive immigration reform remains unlikely in the current political climate while an impasse presides over Congress, a coalition of organizations have formed a report with proposed reforms in regulations affecting skilled foreign-born workers and students with advanced degrees. The groups include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce , the American Council on International Personnel , Immigration Works and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops . The report highlights steps that the administration could take immediately, which the group contends would have a tangible effect on the immigration system and specifically serve to attract foreign-born talent to U.S. shores. “This is low-hanging fruit,” the Chamber’s senior vice president for Labor, Immigration andEmployee Beneits, Randel K. Johnson, said on a conference call. “That doesn’t take legislative change on Capitol Hill.”

Among the areas of concern, the report highlights outdated labor certification regulations that call on would-be employers of foreign nationals to first take out costly print ads in newspapers to solicit American applicants, “even though in many of the fields in which this process is likely to take place, print advertisements have completely disappeared,” according to the report. Other groups suggested the administration implement a “trusted Employer Program” for companies that have “proven their commitment to compliance withU.S. Immigration laws.” By streamlining the process in this way, they argue, the government could then focus on the eligibility of foreign national prospective hires and direct resources towards enforcement and fraud prevention. Other suggestions included fast-tracking the visa applications for students with science, technology, engineering or math degrees (STEM)- a sector that the White Househas prioritized as a critical part of the 21 st Century “innovation economy.” Presently, employers looking to hire foreign-born STEM specialists are required to demonstrate that there is a shortage of U.S. workers with such expertise through lengthy certification processes-something that is as cost and time ineffective as it is unreliable.

Another suggestion is a reformed visa re-validation process, which would allow foreign nationals to renew visas for travel prior to their departure from the U.S. rather than requiring them to return to their home countries to reapply. Even though President Obama has time and again stressed his commitment to immigrants and fixing the broken system, his actions tell otherwise, so it remains to be seen whether the administration will take up these suggestions to produce even the slightest bit of progress in this policy area. Austin Fragomen, Chairman of the American Council on International Personnel said, “Obviously we welcome anything the administration is willing to do to facilitate some of these ideas. But in the scheme of all the different ideas that have been floated, the suggestions we’ve been making are far more significant than the few concepts that the administration has put on the table.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the USCIS , pushed back on assertions that the administration was not doing enough. “There are criticisms that we deserve, but the criticism that we’re not doing enough is not deserved,” he said.

“We’re doing a tremendous amount across the spectrum,” he explained, saying the White House immigration reform efforts were not limited to business and employment concerns but also extended to “family unity and humanitarian relief” issues. “When we announce new initiatives, we have to implement them operationally and that is not something that is done overnight,” he added. “We are being incredibly forward leaning,” he said, and as evidence, pointed to a recent Department of Homeland Security and USCIS announcement to increase transparency and efficiency around visas for skilled workers. Mr. Mayorkas said that he thought some of the group’s recommendations were “well taken” but explained that he would have to further examine them to determine whether they might amount to regulatory and statutory changes- ones that would ultimately require Congresssional approval. “The devil is in the details,” he said.

In light of the situation, one that is riddled by indecision and controversy, these ideas are realistic in that they are relatively easy and practical to implement since they do not require an entire immigration system overhaul, and they could certainly prove to be effective in their purpose. If only the Obama administrationhad the willingness and resolve necessary to implement them-as they say, only time will tell.

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