Born in England to British and Jamaican parents, and a naturalized U.S., I bring a unique perspective to my immigration law practice. Working closely with the immigrant business community, I know first-hand the contributions they make to our economy.
Between 2006-2010, businesses owned by new immigrants generated $13.3 billion in revenue, 23.8 percent of all net business income in the state. That is not to mention the $706 million in taxes that undocumented workers paid in 2010.
There is a pressing need for high-skilled talent in South Florida that can be met with sound policy decisions by members of Congress. A thoughtful and responsible approach to revising the visa system, specifically the H-1B visa, should be an essential part of a broader comprehensive immigration reform package that would strengthen Florida’s economy. A foreign-born worker in the United States with a STEM degree from an American university creates 2.62 jobs for American workers.
In a globalized economy that is rapidly changing at the pace of technology, the H-1B visa serves the critical needs of our communities and businesses by providing crucial resources to rural clinics and local universities in the form of specialized doctors, research scientists, and engineers.
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South Florida has a well-recognized emerging tech ecosystem, with Forbes naming Miami as a Top 5 growing tech hub. Miami’s tech industry was built with significant contributions from immigrant entrepreneurs who continue to re-invest in their neighborhoods. Wyncode Academy, founded by immigrants in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, is training the next generation of coders.
Closing the door on immigrants would amount to brain drain, deterring potential talent and investments from the thriving international entrepreneurial community.
The H-1B visa was created to fill the existing skills gap. Used properly, the visa does not replace American workers. We will not rebuild America’s middle class by presenting false choices to the public. The false choice being an arbitrary cap or elimination of high-skilled foreign workers under the faulty premise that doing so would create more opportunities for Americans.
While there are companies that abuse the H-1B visa, it also is false choice to say we can’t both protect American workers and bring in the best and brightest from around the world. High-skilled immigrants help grow the economy, increase wages for all Americans and are essential to our region’s long-term economic future.
Congress can and should modernize the H-1B visa to reflect the 21st century. Solutions include updating the wage provisions around the H-1B category to ensure foreign nationals are indeed receiving the required wage. We can also adjust access to the visa for those companies whose workforce is already made up of a high number of H-1B visa holders to allow H-1B opportunities for a greater number of companies.
As a rapidly growing hub for STEM fields, Florida will need to fill 340,840 new STEM jobs by 2020. Policymakers in Congress should listen to the stakeholders in academia, as well as the technology and business sectors, to find a commonsense solution that spurs growth and innovation, and moves us forward into the 21st century.
This Congress has the opportunity to get it right by implementing reforms that reflect the needs of local and national interests. South Florida’s congressional lawmakers should make it their priority to ensure that the gateway to high-skilled talent remains open, while fostering the talent in our own backyard.
Christine Alden is an immigration attorney and partner at Weiss, Alden, Polo in Miami.