shutterstock_9560890For many immigration practitioners, no matter how devout a college basketball fan they may be, another type of March Madness overtakes their lives to the exclusion of all else:  H-1B season.  We’re in the midst of it right now and it’s going to be a brutal year; experts in the field expect the 85,000 visa cap to be reached immediately upon acceptance of H-1B visa petitions on April 1.

This kind of extraordinarily high demand for H-1B visas, a category set aside for skilled workers, demonstrates yet another fault in current American immigration policy.  It is clear that American businesses depend heavily on skilled foreign workers and our current system just doesn’t permit these workers to enter the American economy without jumping through hoops and being lucky enough to be picked out of a hat for one of the H-1B slots available.

Let’s talk numbers: approximately 124,000 visa petitions were filed during the first week of April 2013, and experts are predicting well over 150,000 petitions to be filed in the first days of H-1B visa petition acceptance this year.  Said otherwise, up to half or more of all eligible skilled workers who already have a job offer in hand from a U.S. company will have their petitions denied for lack of available visas.

The 85,000 H-1B cap isn’t established using a set of economic indicators, combined with local and regional workforce needs, but instead was set arbitrarily and implemented in 2003 when the previous cap of 195,000 was drastically reduced.  But this sort of capriciousness with caps and limits is status quo when it comes to our nation’s immigration laws across the board.

Those who defend the cap as a way to protect U.S. workers are short-sighted.  As the American Immigration Council’s Executive Director Ben Johnson described during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, “Highly skilled immigrants complement their native-born peers; they do not substitute for them. This is true throughout all high-skilled occupations, but is particularly true in STEM fields.  Arguments that immigrants are depressing wages or freezing out native-born workers belie the available evidence.”

The H-1B March Madness keeps me and many of my colleagues busy and employed, which I appreciate.  But as an American, who cares deeply for this country, knowing that yet another facet of our immigration laws doesn’t reflect the needs of our nation, or its founding values, is disheartening.

Something needs to be done.  And while much of the debate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) centers around family unity and bringing the undocumented out of the shadows, it is easy to overlook how CIR could impact American businesses and help our economy flourish.  But the Senate-passed bipartisan bill last June contained changes to employment-based immigration as part of a comprehensive approach.

By raising the H-1B cap and creating easier access to jobs for foreign-born, educated individuals, CIR will help the economy continue to grow by allowing our businesses to grow and advance in a competitive global economy.  Without reform, we risk getting behind in the global marketplace, losing skilled workers to other developed nations and economies.

Reform to our immigration quotas for temporary and permanent workers is vital to our economy.  Providing additional visa options to temporary unskilled seasonal workers for our agricultural industry and long-term skilled workers to America’s businesses are important changes that should be implemented.  The current arbitrary limits on visas don’t help anyone.

Recently an open letter to Speaker Boehner was signed by 636 business leaders, calling for immigration reform.  Companies ranging from Microsoft and Google to Caterpillar and Hormel Foods understand the need for America to stay competitive in the global marketplace.  Without immigration reform, we risk losing major bases of operations to foreign shores, and that would hurt our economy.  Having lost so many manufacturing jobs to global outsourcing, America cannot afford to lose our tech sector and other corporations requiring skilled workers as well.

The need for immigration reform is obvious.  America’s businesses need reasonable, legal avenues to bring educated and skilled foreign workers here, to help boost our economy.

This type of March Madness has to stop.

Written by Bryon M. Large, Esq., Chair, AILA Colorado Chapter