Welcome high skill workers or lose them: US think tank

Washington, April 30 (IANS) Citing the significant contributions of immigrants from India, a leading US think tank has suggested that America must roll out the welcome mat to high skill workers to remain competitive and innovative.

While much of the congressional immigration reform debate is focused on a ‘path to citizenship’ for 11 million illegal immigrants, including some 260,000 Indians, a proposal by Senate’s “Gang of Eight” focusing on skilled workers “should attract broad support,” it said, describing it as ‘path to prosperity’.

Called the Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, it proposes increasing the number of visas for high-skilled foreign workers and granting permanent legal (‘green card’) status to more foreign students who earn graduate degrees from American universities in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

“Current US immigration practices prevent US companies and entrepreneurs from gaining access to talented, high skilled employees,” noted Karl F. Inderfurth, Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies and Scott Miller, Scholl Chair in International Business at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“A further incentive for increasing the number of high skill immigrant visas to the United States is the benefit that can come from the bilateral economic links the immigrant community maintains with their country of origin,” they wrote.

Indian Americans, for example, “are one of the fastest growing minorities in the United States, and in addition to coming here for higher education, they increasingly have come to start companies and invest,” Inderfurth and Miller said.

The evidence that Indian immigrants and Indian businesses boost the US economy is clear, they said.

“Since 2006, Indian nationals have founded 33 percent of all engineering and technology companies founded by immigrants in the United States, which accounts for about a quarter of all companies launched.”

“Indian companies support more than 250,000 jobs for locals in the United States. In addition, Indian companies have invested more than $4.9 billion and employ more than 27,000 Americans,” Inderfurth and Miller said.

Reactions to the proposal in the US and India have been mixed, the paper noted.

The North American Association of Indian IT Professionals (NAAIIP) is pleased with new stipulations to increase the number of temporary high-skill visas (H1B visas) and provide foreign high skill workers with some employment flexibility.

India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) is concerned about the likely hike in H1B visa fees and the potential to apply new rules in a discriminatory manner against companies headquartered in India.

The US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), both argue that targeting Indian firms operating in the US with restrictions or fees is contrary to the spirit of the US- India strategic partnership.

“While this debate continues, one thing that most experts can agree on is that the US is no longer the only preferred destination for high skill workers,” Inderfurth and Miller wrote.

“As part of the global competition for innovation and knowledge, other nations are keen to absorb the talent that the US turns away,” they noted suggesting, “In order to remain competitive and innovative, we must roll out the welcome mat.”

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