This column by TAB CEO Glenn Hamer was published by the McAllen Monitor.
Employers are still in need of workers, and the private sector has exhausted its solutions. Pay has been better than ever. Companies have embraced hybrid work models. Some have opted to keep certain positions remote in effort to retain talent. And yet, it seems those who choose not to participate in the workforce simply can’t be persuaded.
Businesses need to be able to look outside of the box, and in this case, outside of the U.S. It is a competitive advantage that the brightest minds from all over the world want to come to this country. Unfortunately, when we made the decision to reopen doors to businesses after the height of the pandemic, we failed to fully reopen our visa system.
Student and worker visa programs have been in effect for decades and enable our companies and universities to compete for top talent around the world. In a 21st century global economy, a backlogged visa system is an economic failure that must be rectified.
Since the pandemic forced consulates around the world to shutter, people who truly should be in our country have been shut out. As The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, “the backlog is estimated to have slowed entry to the U.S. for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.” The WSJ goes on to state, “the lack of available appointments has affected companies’ ability to hire new employees, transfer existing employees from abroad and host meetings with international attendees.”
The people who generally obtain these visas are hard-working, highly skilled individuals seeking to create a better life for themselves and their families. From doctors to scientists, the world is competing for talent and an inefficient visa program puts the United States at a disadvantage on the global stage — both talent-wise and economically. The backlog for travel visas of course impacts families, but it also means American businesses and communities are missing out on countless dollars from potential tourists who aren’t trying to emigrate here; they just want to eat at our restaurants, shop in our stores, and experience all that this country has to offer.
There are many in the business community who would want to go further than visas. We want comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, after decades at a stalemate, it is clear the political will for a bipartisan solution to our immigration system is not quite where it needs to be. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act at all. There is one sensible step we can take that all sides should be able to get behind. The Biden administration must cut through the bureaucratic red tape that is hamstringing our visa program and leaving far too many unable to obtain the necessary documents to come to the United States and work.
Whether it’s some of the brightest young minds in the world or simply tourists looking to spend money in our economy, the inability of people to obtain these visas is a complete failure.
The visa program is a proven legal system that enables our businesses and universities to attract some of the best talent in the world and will be instrumental in turning this economy around. The solution to these problems does not require an act of Congress, just and act of will on behalf of the current administration.
Glenn Hamer is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.