By Chelsie Kramer, State Organizer for the American Immigration Council & Katie Greer, Director of Communications & Brand Operations for TAB
This week the Texas Association of Business (TAB) hosted a virtual conversation on visas and workforce needs as the second installation of the Immigration Webinar Series. TAB CEO Glenn Hamer began the discussion by stating that, “Texas views immigration as an opportunity” and said the importance of the discussion comes down to the fact that there are two job openings for every individual willing to fill them. Texas needs creative solutions for employers to ensure they have the workers they need to keep our economy booming. One area to consider is the U.S. visa system.
Chelsie Kramer, the State Organizer for the American Immigration Council and their Texas business coalition, Texans for Economic Growth, welcomed the panel by explaining that “economists have warned for years that immigration needs to increase to compensate for the number of people retiring, yet it has slowed dramatically since 2016. Knowing this, why has our system slowed, and how do visas play into this discussion?”
Jon Baselice, Vice President of Immigration Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, moderated the conversation with Jennifer Apperti, Deputy Director of the Texas-Mexico Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU), and Laura Collins, Director of the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the Bush Institute.
Jon started the conversation by explaining what a work-based visa is, the many different types, and explaining that the caps for employment visas are outdated and have not been updated in years. Jon highlighted that the hospitality and travel industries are suffering immeasurably partly due to worker shortages, a deficit in available visas, and process delays for visa petitions by the DHS, which have a negative domestic economic impact.
Laura added that there are significant labor shortages among all sectors and that “it is incumbent upon all of us to think about short, medium, and long-term solutions to our immigration system and labor shortage.” A short and medium-term solution is addressing visa reform. “We have not updated our immigration system, particularly on the employment side, in 30 years,” Laura said. Jennifer added that the current system is focused on family reunification, which is not necessarily bad, but shifting some of those numbers over to work-based visas could help tip the scales a bit.
Right now, it is an accepted fact that people who want to work hard and contribute to the U.S. economy should expect to wait a long time. “Our laws are forcing people to wait,” Jon said. The system does not have to be that way. The green card system needs to offer more opportunities, and we could start by raising the cap on employment-based green cards, which typically totals 140,000 annually, with half going to spouses and children.
Laura shared that although it is not easy to come to the U.S., we are still the number one destination worldwide for migrants. Migrants who come to the U.S. know they will not receive benefits and that their best bet is to claim asylum, work as much as they can, and send as much money back to their families while awaiting proceedings, knowing they will likely lose their case. Jon reiterated, "Texas would not be the economic success story without welcoming migrants.”
Advocates recognize that immigration reform is seen as a politically complex issue. Some Texans think policymakers should address border security before addressing workforce concerns. Jennifer said we could achieve both simultaneously, that the mindset needs to be changed to border security and immigration reform.
Solutions for consideration include quick action by the executive branch, such as expanding the number of available H-1B, and H-2B visas. However, there must be congressional action to make a more lasting impact on the system and our workforce, such as streamlining the process to allow H-4 spouses to work and, exempting spouses and children from counting towards the annual green card total and, continuing to automate processes and improve efficiencies in the labor department, so employers are not wasting time waiting to get their workers approved. Also, all the panelists agreed that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the House, and the Senate is currently working on, would be a huge step forward by assisting the agriculture sector’s near-critical workforce shortage.
These visa reforms are an issue of global competitiveness where the U.S. needs to adjust to keep up with other leading nations. For example, unlike the U.S., both Canada and Australia both have H-2B programs that allow spouses to work.
Laura explained that having a complicated process to acquire a work visa strains our asylum system, which causes people to endanger themselves by coming to the U.S. without reasonable legal pathways.
And for the business community, we need your voices. Congress is more likely to act when business leaders unite around a common goal. Share your stories—advocate for your employees.
Additional resources from the webinar: