President Obama has just received a striking vote of no confidence from the American voters. Americans are rightly fed up with “policy Obama.” Most any executive order this president attempts will be met with harsh negative feedback. There is, however, one potential executive action that makes a whole lot of sense for America.
The Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh is positive on an executive action to increase the number of employment-based green cards available to highly skilled workers without changing the law.
One possible reform through executive action could increase the number of employment-based green cards available to highly skilled workers without changing the law. How is that possible?
Under current immigration law, about 140,000 green cards are set aside for highly skilled workers with job offers from American companies. But only about 45 percent of those green cards went to workers in 2013, with the rest going to their families. The government currently counts family members against the numerical green-card quota for workers.
Immigration attorneys have acknowledged that the statutes are unclear and that there is no legal basis for counting family members against the worker cap. “Neither the law nor the regulations authorize or require family members to count against the employment-based green card cap,” immigration attorney Matthew Kolken of Buffalo, N.Y., told me.
Immigration attorneys Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta concur. They wrote that “[t]here is nothing here [in the law] that explicitly authorizes or mandates the counting of family members” against the employment-based green card cap. Families of workers are counted against the worker cap, apparently, because of bureaucratic inertia.
Because counting family members against the worker cap is a bureaucratic creation, President Obama could likely reverse it through an executive order or through asking the bureaucracy to reevaluate its interpretation of the statute. Ideally, the bureaucracy would reinterpret the statute and propose a regulation that would only count workers against the cap, soliciting public comments along the way. Since such a reinterpretation is reasonable based on the unclear statute, such a regulatory move would be normal — government agencies do it every day.
By not counting family members against the cap, the number of employment-based green cards issued every year would more than double. Such a change in counting green cards would not prevent the families of green card workers from coming; it would merely stop counting them against the cap.
These types of green cards are set aside for highly skilled foreign workers who would greatly benefit the American economy if they were allowed to work here. First, such a reform would increase American productivity. Between 1990 and 2010, skilled immigrants in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors of the economy accounted for at least 30 percent of the aggregate productivity growth in the U.S. economy and could have accounted for as much as half of that growth. Faster productivity growth increases American wages and economic growth broadly.
Second, highly skilled immigrants are known for their entrepreneurship. In recent years, more than half of the technology startups in Silicon Valley were founded or cofounded by highly skilled immigrants. Specifically, 35 percent of semiconductor startups, 32 percent of computer and communication startups, and 28 percent of software startups were founded or cofounded by immigrants. These firms hire Americans and create goods and services that improve our lives.