Obama Holds Facebook Town Hall On The EconomySilicon Valley was one of the largest contributors to President Obama’s election campaign. In return, it expected he would do what he promised—fix the immigration bottleneck that is choking innovation and forcing the world’s best and brightest to return home. But on the first opportunity he has had to keep his word, the President has let the Valley down. The White House announced on Nov 28th, that it will not support a bill that the Republican-controlled House later passed—which solves part of the technology industry’s problem.

Sadly, the President is repeating the mistake he made with Obamacare—going for all or nothing. As a result, if we get any immigration reform at all, it will be unpalatable to both sides. It will take months or years to negotiate and will be messy. And while the political battles rage, tens of thousands of engineers, scientists, and researchers will return home and Silicon Valley will suffer.

On Nov 30, the house voted to pass a bill called the STEM Jobs Act, that will make it easier for foreign students graduating with advanced science and math degrees to gain permanent resident visas. The bill, which was introduced by  House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sweetened the deal for Democrats by adding a provision that provides for the reunification of families of foreign workers who are in the U.S. legally. But the Republicans demanded a price: the elimination of another visa category which is commonly called the “diversity lottery”. This provides 55,000 visas every year to randomly selected applicants largely from NigeriaGhanaEthiopiaKenya, and parts of Eastern Europe.

The White House statement said that the administration “is deeply committed to building a 21st-century immigration system that meets the Nation’s economic and security needs through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform”. However, it was opposed to the Republican legislation because it does not “meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform”.

I agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform and that diversity is important. I don’t like the idea of sacrificing the diversity visa. But the lack of diversity isn’t a critical problem for the U.S. today. It may have been, when the diversity lottery was first enacted twenty years ago. Right now, a bigger problem that the country faces is that its economy is in the doldrums and unemployment is high; the most innovative and dynamic sector of its economy is facing talent shortages; foreign students and skilled workers that it is educating are being forced to leave the country because they can’t get visas; and we won’t let foreign entrepreneurs start companies that employ Americans.

A better strategy for the President and the Democratic Party is to take the low-hanging fruit—to pass legislation that the Republicans agree with. They can surely negotiate improvements to the STEM Act that make it more acceptable to them. And then they can negotiate on a Dream Act, a temporary farm-worker bill, and a Startup Visa—all of which are urgently needed. The diversity visa can always be reinstated as part of comprehensive immigration reform—whenever the President is able to negotiate this.

After the thrashing the Republicans received from Hispanics and Asians in the elections, the party is clearly on the defensive about immigration. It needs to show that it has “evolved” in the same way that Fox commentator Sean Hannity says he has.  So it is taking incremental steps. The STEM Act is probably the best legislation that the Republicans can come to consensus on right now. The party has only started “evolving”, after all, and winning over the hard-liners will take time. In an email to me, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va, wrote that the Republican Party is “serious about immigration reform, that’s why as part of the STEM Act, they included a provision that helps reunite families of permanent residents who have applied for their own green cards but are currently caught up in a bureaucratic backlog”. To me, this seems like a very reasonable first step.

I hope that the President doesn’t sacrifice another crop of science, technology, and engineering graduates in the hope that he can get the perfect immigration bill. The limited public support that Obamacare received shows that in the current political climate, there can be no such thing.

Link to article on Forbes website

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  • The_Madness_Must_Stop

    More of this guy’s “snake oil” scare tactics. Vivvy and his call to arrms, about how in trouble we are, unless we allow the like of Tata, WiPro, and InfoSys to bring in 300,000 more job robbers a year – companies that also happen to be by far the biggest job outsourcers. Don’t believe his self-serving b/s about how we’re gonna go down the tubes if we don’t let in more and more low/no-skilled H1b’s, it’s a sham designed to depress American wages and fix india’s unemployment problems – NOT what we are paying taxes for. Killing off our domestic drive to create technologist by dumping in 300,000 more Hb1’s per year will have the exact opposite effect, making us more dependent on third world countries for STEM workers, how will that be any good for us. This is purely a new ploy by companies to depress wages and skirt labor laws and standards. H1b/B1/L1 visas are corrupt to the bone, Don’t drink Vivvy’s Kool-Aid, END H1B NOW !!!!

  • Choking innovation? We’ve BEEN importing these people by the MILLIONS for 15 years and where is the innovation?

  • Doug Hohbach

    Let’s make a straightforward
    tweak to the H-1b program that will address many of its current problems. For
    each H-1b visa, the sponsoring company should be required to fully fund a
    college scholarship at a U.S university in the specific field that the foreign
    worker is being hired into. This would:

    1. Make the visas significantly
    more expensive, making them likely available for the truly talented and valuable foreign worker while
    simultaneously making the domestic worker relatively less expensive, in the more
    numerous situations where foreign and domestic workers are competing for the

    2. Increase the supply of
    technically trained workers when the scholarship recipients finish their

    3. Motivate high school students,
    who will need financial assistance to attend college, to study STEM subjects,
    based on the availability of scholarships in technical fields.

    • No amount of “motivation” is going to convince high school students to study STEM when they know some angry, anti-white Indian will be on the other side of the hiring desk when they go to apply for a job. Who do you think you are kidding?

  • Joshua Norman

    There is no such thing as a shortage of technology workers and to say otherwise is a flat out lie