Immigration Reform 2013: How We Can Regain America's Competitive Edge

Immigration has been a heated issue amongst Americans for the better part of the past decade. A group of senators are now working on new legislation to reform America’s immigration policies, but they are missing the point.

The ongoing immigration reform debate centers on creating a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants. Republicans and Democrats argue that millions of children whose parents came to this country illegally are entitled to become U.S. citizens. The president and many senators argue that the U.S. is these children’s home, and not their parent’s original country. Meanwhile, Republicans, most notably the libertarians, argue that no immigration reform should occur without securing the U.S. border with Mexico first. The latest estimate of number of illegal immigrants within the United States puts the total to close to 11 million. There is a sentiment within the two parties that these 11million could become "key" voters, with some Republicans claiming that targeting this demographic would allow them to win elections. All of these issues and debates aside, what has been missing from the discussion is how should the U.S. reform its immigration policy towards foreigners (excluding illegal immigrants within the U.S.).

The current immigration reform does not solve the bureaucratic and structural problems that comprise the U.S. immigration system, a complicated, strict and closed system which does not allow the U.S. to capitalize on its ability to attract the world’s talent to its doorstep and keep them here.

Every year, millions of international students flock into the U.S. to pursue their higher-education degrees, the majority of whom enter the country with an F-1 visa and spend at least 4 years in the U.S. These students spend their money in the U.S., they pay taxes, many even pay social security and contribute to their society. They volunteer, they intern at leading companies, and then they graduate and only a handful get to stay in the U.S. due to the quota system that limits the number of work visas to 50,000. This raises an important question: Why does the current system allow for millions of people to come to the U.S., receive education, training, gain experience, and then kick them out instead of benefiting from what they have learned?

The U.S. prides itself on being a country of immigrants, one that welcomes all who wish to join it, and it is time to reform the immigration system to follow through with those claims. The U.S. should not be afraid of foreigners, but should create a more welcoming and easier process for them to gain work permits at the very least. There are currently over 3 million jobs openings in the U.S. which employers are unable to fill due to a skills gap. Comprehensive immigration reform will help fill those positions. One of the key components of a nation’s power is its people; the U.S. needs foreigners in order to compete with China in the 21st century. Additionally, making it easier for foreigners to get work permits and green cards would increase the number of tax payers in the country, whilst not changing the voting demographics of the nation. In a system that is in great need of revenue and with an aging population, increased legal immigration can help the U.S. maintain an age demographcs balance critical to the U.S. economy’s survival.

Lastly, there has been a lot of debate about whether it would be fair to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants over those who are attempting to legally gain entry into this country. If Congress, Senate and the president can allow such changes for 11 million people, I’m confident that making it easier for foreigners to gain work permits shouldn’t be an issue. The U.S. has an opportunity for sweeping, comprehensive reforms; it would be a shame if these reforms did not include work permits and green card reforms for foreigners. The U.S. can continue to lead the world in the 21st century; comprehensive immigration reform is the key to that.

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Ziad Al Achkar

International Relations and Affairs academic, Worked in Humanitarian Field with a hefty doze of Geo-Spatial analysis. Now pursuing a degree in Diplomacy Passionate about Media, Freedom, Democracy. Diplomacy. Politics and International Affairs. follow me on twitter @ziadachkar

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