Editorial

Local impact of H-B1 visa restraints exemplify necessary changes

May 13, 2016
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The random selection process used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to award H-1B visas ends this week on May 16 for the 2017 fiscal year. The process began April 1, but the federal government announced on April 7 it had already reached and exceeded the congressionally mandated cap.

The lottery provides the visas to highly skilled foreign nationals with expertise in the sciences, technology, medicine, business education, law and arts, and each of those business sectors are impacted in the Grand Rapids region, particularly among the high-profile medical sciences.

Any hope of increases to the 85,000 H-1B visas currently allowed for businesses — an issue of growing importance — remains buried in the ashes of political derision. Immigration attorney and president of Im Law in Grand Rapids, Susan Im, noted earlier this year in Business Journal reports, “We already know employers are facing this uphill challenge of trying to get one of those visas.”

Companies must prove they cannot find a U.S. citizen or resident of equal skill and experience for the specialty occupation. In Grand Rapids the issue is central to the physician and research specialists being recruited to local health systems, among others. News reports have noted this is the fourth consecutive year the cap was hit in less than one week, certainly offering proof of intense recruitment to remain competitive, especially in a world economy. Even regional businesses have lost visas in the lottery process and had no choice but assist the employee leave the U.S.

Educational institutions, which have annually lost students educated at area colleges (and across the U.S.), have received some minor concession from Immigration Services. As of Dec. 31, 2015, the department was expanding the definition of the types of organizations that qualify for H-1B cap exemptions, though adjudications have been inconsistent, according to Im. Colleges, universities and medical schools such as those that exist in Grand Rapids must prove the individuals’ primary purpose is to directly contribute to research or education.

Im noted in the Business Journal report, “For the purposes of research or education that is huge because we have a lot of nonprofits that have those kinds of affiliations with colleges, universities, medical schools.”

The Business Journal advocates a show of leadership on this issue from its elected federal legislators representing some of the country’s top educational institutions and international businesses.

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