Background: Convertible Visa for Skilled Workers

Encouraging Immigration, its role in Bellevue and Beyond

Introduction

There are costs and benefits to targeting skilled immigrants and integrating them into Bellevue’s communities. A skilled visa is a temporary visa aimed at allowing educated people or students to immigrate and work or study while earning their citizenship. Most skilled visa laws require immigrants to have a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field and be employed in a STEM job for two or more consecutive years. After this two year period the holder of a skilled visa can apply for full citizenship. Part of the debate revolves around whether the government should encourage immigration from a select few while placing restrictions on immigration at other levels. Supporters of this policy argue that it encourages growth and helps integrate professionals. Others say that it is discriminatory and will allow the government to limit immigration of “undesirable foreigners.”

Pros

Targeted visas could be of great benefit to Bellevue for several reasons. The creation of skilled visas would encourage the continued growth of companies like Microsoft and Boeing that require highly educated employees. Bellevue would also benefit greatly due to the large number of foreign students enrolled in colleges in the Seattle area. Another benefit is that employers can help immigrants quickly adapt to Bellevue without needing government resources. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis “Greater amounts of human capital are required to develop and manipulate the technology that drives the economy.” Overall, expanding skilled visas would encourage further economic development.

Cons

Skilled visas allow the government to place filters on who can immigrate. By specifying qualities that would allow immigrants to bypass current quotas the government can limit the number of visas available for immigrants without STEM degrees without fear of reducing the number of “desirable immigrants.” Many have raised concerns that this would limit the diversity of new immigrants while at the same time forcing some to immigrate illegally. Lastly there are questions as to how this could be executed efficiently, whether or not they should be limited to degrees from American universities, and if we can really predict the economic effects.

History

Skilled worker visas, primarily the H-1B visa, have increased in both complication and scarcity since they were instituted. In 1997 the H-1B Labor condition application was only one page but it has grown to five pages. And although the number of H class visas has not decreased dramatically the quotas have increased at a much slower rate than demand. Before passage of the American Competitiveness Act of 2000 those with H-1B visas were treated as indentured servants and rarely paid at the average rates. In contrast H-1B visa holders today have a lot more support from both the government and corporation  Lastly H-1B visas are notorious for being granted to foreign-based corporations at a greater rate than American based corporations; many see the great advances in competing markets such as India and give partial credit to the 6 year limit on H-1B visas.

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