The Edmond Sun

June 24, 2013

BY THE NUMBERS: Immigration reform necessary for economy’s future

Mickey Hepner
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook Inc., recently said: “We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants. And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.”

Zuckerberg is right. For a nation that prides itself on being a land of immigrants, we make it surprisingly difficult to be a legal immigrant. For a nation that prides itself on being the “land of opportunity,” we close the doors of opportunity to too many talented people who want to live here. And for a nation that prides itself on possessing the world’s most innovative economy, we aren’t very open to attracting the world’s most innovative people.

Thanks to a bipartisan group of U.S. senators though, this might begin to change.

This month the U.S. Congress is inching closer (albeit slowly) to passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill — one that would significantly modernize our nation’s immigration policies. The measure, S. 744, would significantly enhance border security, increase the number of legal immigrants allowed into the U.S. each year, and provide a (long) path toward citizenship for current undocumented immigrants. In short, it would make us safer, more prosperous and more consistent with our nation’s ideals.

While much of the attention will focus on the bill’s provisions to increase border security (to appeal to conservatives) and provide a (long) path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. currently (appealing to progressives), arguably the most important provisions would increase the number of highly skilled knowledge workers who will more easily be able to receive a visa to work in the U.S. It is this aspect of the bill that has attracted support from a who’s who of high-tech corporate executives including Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Eric Schmidt (Google), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) and Drew Houston (Dropbox). These leaders know that their continued success depends upon their ability to attract and retain the most innovative employees — something that is becoming increasingly difficult under current immigration laws.

The fact is that the limitations in the current employment-based immigration rules have made it impossible for companies to attract sufficient numbers of highly skilled employees because the U.S. government caps the number of employment-based immigration visas allowed for citizens of each country. Not only are the caps too low to satisfy the labor needs of American corporations, but they unduly limit the number of visas granted to countries like China and India who are sending more students to study in the U.S. each year.

These students come to the U.S. to get a college degree. They want to stay in the U.S. to work. But for too many, we don’t let them.

We can, and we should, change this.

The passage of S. 744 will begin to make these needed changes. Under the legislation, graduates in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines would be exempt from the employment-based visa caps, and the country-specific caps would be removed. In short, S. 744 would help ensure that today’s best and brightest workers have the chance to work here and build a better America.

In the amazing story that is America, it is our openness to new ideas, new cultures and new people that have continuously propelled us forward. It is our belief that all people, not just U.S. citizens, are endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that has built the American Dream. And it has been the waves of immigrants — the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free — that have made this the greatest nation on earth.

S. 744 is not a perfect bill — no legislation that has a chance of passage ever will be. But it will move us forward. Not only will this measure boost our economy, and increase the likelihood that the next generation of technologies are developed here in the U.S., but it gives us the chance to once again embrace our heritage. We are, after all, a land of immigrants. A people drawn to this place by the unique opportunities and freedoms it offers. A people bound together not by race, nor birthplace, but by a set of ideals. A people who regardless of birthplace or status, simply want to be known as “Americans.”

MICKEY HEPNER is the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.