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H-1B Visa Cap Applications Show Need for Immigration Reform

New U.S. citizens are sworn in at a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles, California April 9, 2014

It took less than a week for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hit the cap of 65,000 for H-1B visas. Last year, the agency received 124,000 applications and in most years, these visas get snapped up in a matter of days or weeks. The visas allow high-skilled experts to come to America for jobs where workers are in short supply. Information technology companies regularly complain about worker shortages and difficulty filling available positions.

IT Worker Shortage

The shortage of IT workers and the limited supply of H-1B visas demonstrate why it is important for the U.S. House of Representatives to enact immigration reform. There are many unresolved issues in the immigration area. Aside from the H-1B visa shortage, there are problems in terms of undocumented immigrants forced to live in an underground economy. They pay sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes, but have no legal status and live in constant fear of discovery and deportation.

Border security is an issue that legislators need to take seriously. Voters worry about the number of people crossing the border illegally or overstaying their student or tourism visas. Investing money in high-tech sensors to track vulnerable areas makes a lot of sense.

Immigrants Boost the US Economy

Something that many Americans do not realize is the important economic contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. Half of the Silicon Valley startups had an immigrant founder or co-founder. Immigrants have jobs in areas such as agriculture, restaurants, and hotels where native born citizens do not want to work. As I demonstrate in my Brookings Institution Press book, Brain Gain, immigration is a major driver of longterm economic prosperity.

Administratively, the current system is a nightmare. It is complex, slow, and highly bureaucratic. As an illustration, read my 2013 Huffington Post column Inside the Immigration Process for a first-hand account of the difficulties navigating the current regime. Even highly educated people have trouble figuring out how to apply for particular visas.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill on a bipartisan basis that improves the immigration process. House Republicans appear to have decided they can win the 2014 midterm elections without addressing immigration reform. In light of the growing political power of Latinos in swing states, this is a short-sighted decision. House Republicans need to take action on this important issue for political and economic reasons.

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