Every year since 1976, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) has released a “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”. Nominations are offered for words and phrases that are best left out of our vocabulary in the following year.

The 2012 List is as follows:

1.Amazing 2.Baby Bump 3.Shared Sacrifice 4.Occupy 5.Blowback 6.Man Cave 7.The New Normal  8.Pet Parent 9.Win The Future 10.Trickeration 11.Ginormous 12.Thank You In Advance

This year, I nominated – ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’.

A nonstarter and much maligned set of words that have come to symbolize the impasse in Washington. Perhaps, a new approach is required and warranted, beginning with a new set of words to describe what a majority of Americans appear to want and support – a pathway to Citizenship and an overhauling of our Immigration laws.

Writing in an article entitled, Overhauling Immigration Law: A Brief History and Basic Principles of Reform, Mary Giovagnoli states, “Voters signaled in the 2012 federal elections that they were tired of enforcement-only immigration policies and the senseless pain they caused. Now more than ever, the opportunity to craft immigration laws that reflect American values and needs is a distinct possibility.” The article is superbly insightful and gives a quick overview of how we got here and why immigration laws need to reflect current attitudes and needs.

1.  EB-3 and EB-2 Immigrants and Inordinate Delays:

While a ‘pathway’ to Citizenship is a laudable objective for the millions of undocumented immigrants, it is frustrating to see little or nothing being done to further the righteous cause of legal immigrants waiting ever so patiently in line to become permanent residents.
An individual can become a permanent resident based on employment if the Employer is willing to offer a ‘full time, permanent position’ to the nonimmigrant currently working in their organization. The Employer must first engage in testing the U.S. Job Market through a United States Department of Labor controlled process known as PERM or Labor Certification. This test must yield no qualifying U.S. workers, able, willing and qualified to perform the job duties of the advertised position. Depending on the requirements – Master’s degree or Bachelor’s degree and/or experience, the individual is placed in the Employment Based Second (EB-2) or Third Preference Category (EB-3). The United States limits legal employment based immigration to approximately 140,000 each year.1 However, individual countries are held to a numerical limit of 7% of the worldwide level of U.S. immigrant admissions, known as per-country limits or country caps. The several hundred thousand EB-3 and EB-2 immigrants from oversubscribed countries like India and China have little hope of becoming Permanent Residents for a minimum of 8-12 years. Many of them are highly qualified and contribute significantly to their respective fields. Despite wide-spread support from both parties, reform aimed at increasing the immigrant numbers available to this group of immigrants has been bogged down.

2. Entrepreneurs and Investors Relegated to Non Applicable Visa Categories:

Another important area where the White House has led a push is one that deals with Entrepreneurs and Investors; unfortunately, as I explained in an earlier Blog Article, the regulations require the minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field to qualify for an H-1B Visa. The L-1 Visa is only available to intra company transfers and the requirements for an O-1 Visa may not readily apply. There are thousands of highly skilled, highly qualified and highly motivated young entrepreneurs in this category. We simply have to find a way to get them to stay and revitalize the economy.

3. STEM Graduates Ignored:

The Department of Homeland Security has published an expanding list of science, technology, engineering and math degree programs that immediately qualify students for additional time for optional practical training (OPT) – a 17 months extension on top of the initial 12-months of OPT. However, this is clearly far short of the need to find a way to permanently retain this talent in the United States. More importantly, there must be a demand and supply based analysis of other fields that should be made to qualify for OPT extension.

4. Numerical Limitation on Nonimmigrant Visas:

Finally, any reform that does not take into account a much needed expansion of specialty occupation visas (H-1B) would be incomplete.  H-1B Visas have been arbitrarily capped at 65,000 plus an additional 20,000 visas set aside for advanced degree holders. This CAP has proved elusive at best and was set without any scientific basis. It makes no allowance for the thousands of foreign graduates who come out of U.S. schools with advanced degrees.  According to a National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, Foreign students comprise the most rapidly growing segment of the US S&E labor force. Over the last several decades, the share of S&E PhDs granted by US universities going to the foreign-born, rose sharply, from 23% in 1970 to 56% in 2007.

A scalable H-1B CAP based on demand may be the answer. It may not also be a bad idea to come up with a new visa category specifically designed for students graduating from U.S. Schools with a Master’s or higher degree and seeking to be employed in a specialty occupation.

All in all, any reform Bill aimed at overhauling our immigration system, must include provisions designed to alleviate business immigration issues. Alternatively, passing a Business Immigration Bill followed by one that addresses the interests of undocumented aliens may be the answer.

1See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42048.pdf for a recent policy analysis about the numerical limits imposed on Employment Based Immigration.