Ease The Way For Skilled Immigrants

Immigration policy has never been more important to the economic well-being of America. A shrinking pool of labor is the single most important factor limiting future growth. A shortage of workers, especially those with high-tech skills, is an acute problem. Nothing less than a significant remake of immigration policy is needed.

The easy part is simply lifting the annual cap on H-1B three-year visas for skilled foreign professionals. Senate proposals call for an increase from 115,000 to 195,000 each year through 2002. Most everyone in the high-tech sector says this is not enough. Congress should experiment with a much higher number--400,000, for example--and create a new temporary work visa for foreign students earning science and engineering degrees at U.S. universities. The system for handing out permanent visas requires a more serious overhaul. Country-by-country quotas for employment-based immigration causes long waits in China and India, which have large numbers of qualified applicants, while green cards earmarked for other countries go unused. That's ridiculous. All available permanent work visas should be offered to whoever qualifies, regardless of where he or she lives.

The really tough decision should be for the U.S. to rebalance its current immigration policy based on family ties. That doesn't mean separating parents and children, but it does mean limiting the number of extended family members who can legally come to the U.S. and using those slots specifically for immigrants with valuable skills. In all fairness, skilled Asians, Europeans, or Latin Americans who want to immigrate to the U.S. deserve as much of a chance as distant relatives of those already in America.

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