America Must Solve Its Other Immigration Crisis

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It’s important to stop illegal immigration to the U.S. But we must also make it easier for the world’s top talents to come here legally.

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It’s important to stop illegal immigration to the U.S. But we must also make it easier for the world’s top talents to come here legally.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE L ast month, President Biden announced a policy to open a legal pathway for 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans to enter America every month. This new legal parole program will ensure that more immigrants wait safely in their home countries while they are vetted, and fewer make the dangerous trek through Central America and Mexico to the United States.

Solving the border crisis is necessary and important. But I’m afraid that this crisis has led us to ignore our other immigration crisis: The growing backlog of legal petitions that makes coming to America legally more and more difficult.

While Americans focus on clickbait videos depicting droves of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border, the stories of millions of legal immigrants who spend years anxiously awaiting the outcomes of their applications for visas, residency, and citizenship are left untold.

A German scientist sponsored by a company to work on a new patent in America needs to wait well over two years to obtain a green card for that purpose because of growing red tape. A Brazilian executive making a seven-figure salary at a multinational corporation also must wait several years before receiving a green card. The same two immigrants would be admitted to the United Kingdom within a few business days under the U.K.’s “super priority service.”

America’s immigration agency, USCIS, is sitting on a pile of over 8.6 million pending applications of all types, nearly triple the size of its backlog of a few years ago. This crisis has been brewing for years as the backlog grew under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Simply put, the government has little incentive to process legal immigration applications in a timely manner, and as a result high-skilled immigrants are looking to take their talents elsewhere.

Take a Canadian oncologist researching pediatric cancer at a major Boston hospital on a TN visa, a visa for Canadian and Mexican professionals under the USMCA trade agreement. If the hospital wants to sponsor her for an EB-2 category green card, it must first ask the Department of Labor what minimum wage it should be paying her and then submit another application certifying that it complies with all labor laws. Each of these two bureaucratic steps takes about ten months, leading employers to rely on temporary-work-visa programs and further clogging up the legal-immigration system.

Bureaucratic barriers are hurting the U.S. economy by preventing high-skilled immigrants who create jobs from coming to America, and by preventing entrepreneurial foreign students from starting companies. Restricting visas for companies seeking top talent simply leads them to offshore their operations to China and Canada. And making STEM Ph.D. candidates wait more time to receive a green card leads them to pack up their bags and go abroad.

We are running out of time to modernize our legal-immigration system. While the number of people worldwide who want to permanently leave their countries of birth has risen by 20 percent since 2005, the number of those who wish to move to the U.S. has declined. And only 9 percent of those foreigners who are interested in moving to the U.S. have a college degree. If we don’t embrace high-skilled immigration, there will soon come a time when there won’t be high-skilled immigrants left to welcome as other countries will have welcomed them before us.

Too often, the political Right argues that unless we secure the border, we cannot take any political action to help any immigrant, legal or not. Representative Andy Biggs claimed last month that the EAGLE act, a proposal related to legal immigrants, would “do nothing to secure the border” and therefore shouldn’t be passed. Similarly, the Heritage Foundation recently argued that “Congress should not be wasting time looking to expand eligibility for any immigration benefits or visas” and compared support for high-skilled immigration with “open borders.”

This is bizarre reasoning. Wanting a timely process through which high-skilled immigrants such as a physician or engineer can legally immigrate isn’t a waste of time or akin to “open borders”; such claims diminish the meaning of the term and give the appearance of anti-immigrant bigotry where it may not actually exist. A timely yet secure process for the legal immigration of high-skilled foreigners is what nearly eight in ten Americans support. Contrary to what restrictionists claim, welcoming and competing to attract high-skilled immigrants is the ultimate affirmation of American sovereignty and economic self-interest in immigration policy.

The Right isn’t alone in blocking solutions to this problem, of course. When a bill comes to the floor to help high-skilled immigrants, progressives jump at every chance to include amendments to help unauthorized immigrants on DACA or farm workers, leading to the ultimate demise of reasonable proposals.

Thankfully, we don’t need Congress to act in order to fix our legal-immigration backlog and attract high-skilled immigrants — the president can do a lot himself.

The Biden administration has the power to clear the legal backlog by expanding premium processing for all legal-immigration forms, which essentially allows legal immigrants to pay additional fees to USCIS in exchange for faster processing. The agency should also exempt immigrants already entitled to work authorization from filing for work permits, allowing them to use their passport or other documents to work (as is already the case for some visa dependents). These two solutions, among others, would clear our legal-immigration backlog in as little as three years and reduce the time it takes for the highest-skilled immigrants to obtain a green card by about ten months.

It’s time for the Biden administration to take bold action to solve America’s legal-immigration crisis. America deserves and needs a timely legal-immigration system that attracts high-skilled individuals before time runs out. Will the president deliver before it’s too late? Or will partisan bickering continue until most high-skilled immigrants decide that they’d rather not come to America after all?

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