CHICAGO—U.S. employers need an immigration system designed to meet the workforce needs of the future, and the current heightened push for comprehensive reform may be the best chance in decades to accomplish that.
“This is the best time since 1986 that we will have the opportunity to reform our nation’s immigration laws,” said Michael Aitken, vice president of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). He spoke at an informative session on immigration reform on June 16, 2013, at the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition.
But there are lots of land mines on the way to that actually happening, Aitken said.
SHRM and its affiliate the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP) have been focusing advocacy efforts around the most meaningful reforms that will benefit employers.
These include implementing system efficiency through the creation of a Trusted Employer program; providing access to highly educated and skilled talent by freeing up and increasing employment-based green cards and high-skilled visas; and giving employers certainty in hiring through a single, national, entirely electronic employment verification system.
Like the similar government programs of Trusted Shipper, Trusted Traveler and TSA Pre-Check, Trusted Employer would allow the government to pre-qualify U.S. employers that have a proven track record of compliance with federal immigration laws and regulations. The program would streamline the processing of petitions and conserve government resources.
Trusted Employer would be available to employers of any size that choose to apply, and they would qualify based on their track record of prior compliance. Companies that routinely hire foreign nationals as part of their U.S. or global operations would realize the greatest benefits.
“The idea is that the government doesn’t have to pay as much attention to trusted companies that are bringing high-skilled individuals into the United States,” Aitken said.
“It shouldn’t be Groundhog Day every time an employer wants to bring somebody in on a visa,” he added.
Trusted Employer has been a core principle of ACIP’s immigration reform advocacy for many years. It is currently included in a reform proposal being drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives. “It is critical that we get Trusted Employer implemented,” said Lynn Shotwell, executive director for ACIP.
Employers also need an employment-based immigration system that welcomes highly educated and highly skilled professionals from around the globe. This can be achieved by clearing backlogs, improving future access to green cards and temporary H-1B and L-1 visas, reinstating domestic visa revalidation, and expanding spouse and partner work authorization.
“The high-skilled immigration system is broken, in terms of green card backlogs that last several years and hitting different caps like H-1Bs when employers need to bring people in to fill a valuable skills shortage in the organization,” Aitken said.
The comprehensive reform legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate addresses these issues. Specifically, among other things, it doubles the number of employment-based green cards to 280,000; offers green cards to graduates of U.S. doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; creates 120,000 to 250,000 merit-based green cards for the most qualified candidates; and boosts the number of H-1B visas for high-skilled temporary workers from 65,000 to at least 110,000.
Especially important to SHRM is the creation of an employment verification system that works for employers.
“Our goal in this process is to try and eliminate the Form I-9,” Aitken said. “We want to have an entirely electronic, integrated verification system.”
Specifically, SHRM and ACIP are advocating for:
- One federal employment verification system that pre-empts the growing patchwork of state laws.
- An entirely electronic system that incorporates the E-Verify system with an attestation system and ends the duplicative requirement that an employer also complete the paper Form I-9.
- Identity theft prevention through identity authentication. “Right now, E-Verify, the current electronic employment verification system does a lot of things well,” Aitken said. “One of the things it doesn’t do well, however, is tell you if the individual standing in front of you presenting work authorization and identity documents actually owns the identity on those documents.”
SHRM and ACIP came together in 2012 to help advance U.S. growth, innovation and job creation by supporting employers and their employees as they navigate workforce and talent management issues, with an emphasis on reform of the U.S. immigration system.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.