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Apr 24, 201811:51 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Keeping H-1B immigrants at home will help Wisconsin’s labor crunch

(page 1 of 2)

The hurried deployment of National Guard troops to America’s southern border is aimed at stemming a possible surge of illegal immigrants.

If only the same kind of urgency surrounded the need to keep documented aliens working inside the United States, where they’ve been educated and expressed a desire to stay.

The national application period for H-1B visas, which is a federal program for high-skilled immigrants, opened and closed within five days in early April. With a static cap of 65,000 annual applications, the H-1B program is limited by law and further constricted by the fact that only about a third of those applications are selected for further processing through a lottery.

The H-1B is one of the few programs that allow foreign-born innovators, such as engineers and computer scientists, to stay in the country and begin the path toward citizenship. Yet, it takes dumb luck to qualify.

Supply is too tight. Congress should increase the H-1B visa cap while creating other pathways for allowing highly skilled workers, as well as graduates of Wisconsin colleges and universities, to stay in the United States and contribute to its overall competitiveness.

Sometimes that means working for large companies; sometimes in means starting companies, as many immigrants living in Wisconsin have done over time.

It makes little sense to accept foreign-born students in our colleges and universities, grant them advanced degrees, and promptly send them home to compete against us. Perhaps every graduate degree should come with a “green card” attached.

The need for talent is more acute in states such as Wisconsin, which, for largely demographic reasons, is on the cusp of a labor shortage in many sectors.

Whether it’s dairy and agriculture, information technology, construction, tourism, or manufacturing, virtually every part of the Wisconsin economy employs foreign-born workers. About 6% of the state’s workforce is foreign-born, and the percentage of immigrant workers in sectors such as the dairy industry has been pegged at 50% or more.

(Continued)

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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