Immigration is a topic that has occupied the American mind since a group of English settlers had their visas stamped at Jamestown, VA, in 1607. However, while a great deal of the debate in the past centered around the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" who were the majority of those searching for a place in the United States, some of today's arguments concern a less desperate group: highly skilled workers, many of them in the IT field.These applicants aren't, for the most part, coming to these shores in order to settle permanently, but are looking to take advantage of available (and well-salaried) tech jobs -- and U.S. companies are eager to hire them. For example, Google, which is expanding by leaps and bounds, has called on the U.S. government to raise the number of foreign workers allowable on the six-year H-1B visa (the H-1B visa was established by the Immigration Act of 1990 and lets employers hired highly skilled temporary workers). The current cap on the number of H-1B visas allowed per year is 65,000. Google wants that cap increased. Pablo Chavez, policy counsel for Google, has stated that more than 70 Google candidates have been prevented by the cap from receiving visas.
The question is, of course: Why does Google need to bring those 70 candidates into the country? Is it that these 70 individuals had qualifications that made them that much more desirable as employees than U.S. applicants? Or did Google feel that it could hire these workers with less commitment, or at lower salaries, than comparatively skilled U.S. workers? If the former, then that's a sad commentary on our educational system. If the latter, it's a sad commentary on Google.
Meanwhile, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-V) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are trying to make sure that the same companies that hire H-1B workers won't lay off large numbers of U.S. staff to make room for them. They are proposing a new immigration reform amendment which would require that any company intending to hire foreign workers certify that it hasn't had any mass layoffs (involving 50 or more workers) in the past 12 months -- and if a company does announce a layoff, its foreign workers will lose their visas within 60 days.
One can look on the Sanders-Grassley amendment as only one example of the 100 or so amendments that have been filed to the current immigration reform bill. That -- and the continuing discussions that are taking place on television, radio, and the Web -- illustrates how complex the immigration question is. We may approach it differently in each generation, but we may never actually solve it.