On February 5, 2013, the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws Against Illegal Immigration." Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, said that additional hearings on this topic would take place in the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee.
Witnesses included Vivek Wadhwa, Director of Research, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; Michael Teitelbaum, Senior Advisor, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Wertheim Fellow, Harvard Law School; Puneet S. Arora, Vice President, Immigration Voice; Julian Castro, Mayor, San Antonio, Texas; Julie Myers Wood, President, Guidepost Solutions LLC; Chris Crane, President, National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, American Federation of Government Employees; Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies; and Muzaffar Chishti, Director, Migration Policy Institute's office at New York University Law School.
Mr. Wadhwa spoke about the importance of a skilled workforce. He noted that foreign-born workers are "leading the charge" in many applied technology fields. He said that his team's research shows that U.S. visa policies are "chasing away" foreign talent rather than attracting it. He noted that from 1995 to 2005, 52% of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by people born abroad. More recently, the proportion has dropped to 44%.
Mr. Wadhwa noted that foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities have difficulty in finding jobs because employers have difficulty in getting H-1B visas. Those graduates who are lucky enough to get a job and a visa and who decide to make the U.S. their permanent home find that it can take years—sometimes more than a decade—to get a green card, he said. "If they have ideas for building world-changing technologies and want to start a company, they are usually out of luck, because it is not usually possible for people on H-1B visas to work for the companies they might start."
He also said that the families of would-be immigrants are " held hostage" to the visa-holder's immigration status. The spouses of H-1B workers are not allowed to work, he noted, and depending on the state in which they live, they may not even be able to get a driver's license or open a bank account. "They are forced to live as second-class citizens," he said.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Wadhwa said, many are getting frustrated and returning home: "We must stop this brain drain and do all we can to bring more engineers and scientists here."
Mr. Wadhwa recommended (1) increasing the numbers of green cards available to H-1B holders; (2) allowing spouses of H-1B holders to work; (3) targeting immigration based on required skills; (4) allowing H-1B holders to change jobs without requiring sponsorship renewal; (5) extending the term of optional practical training for foreign students from one to four years; (6) instituting a startup visa; and (7) removing the country caps on permanent residence applications.