The Best and The Brightest: The Wrong Immigration Crackdown

Notate bene this originally ran in 2005, but very few people know about it, so I am moving it to the front page for a little while. -dx

Originally printed in The Providence Journal.

The Best and The Brightest: The Wrong Immigration Crackdown

AUSTIN — Immigration is the most explosive issue in U.S. politics. While the controversy rages over how to deal with the problems created by illegal immigration, legal-immigration issues are in danger of being derailed in the frenzied political atmosphere.

On Sept. 15, the State Department released a shocking document that was barely noticed. Innocuously entitled “Visa Bulletin for October 2005,” this document would normally be of interest only to bureaucrats and immigration lawyers and their clients. But this particular bulletin announced a five-year ban on all EB-1(3) petitions from people born in India: a radical change in policy that will badly hurt the U.S. economy and our diplomatic relations with a nuclear power and key ally in the war on terrorism.

An EB-1(3) visa is a petition that lets someone who works as an executive for a foreign branch of a multinational company immigrate to the United States to continue his or her job. The visa is normally used as a way of bringing talented employees from abroad to continue their professional development at the higher levels of management in the United States.

This is one of the most difficult immigration petitions to seek. It is used by firms who are capable of retaining expert counsel to navigate the process, which includes demonstrating the existence and viability of the company and the business necessity of the employee.

Such executives help develop these businesses in the United States, contributing to the local economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for American workers.

In fiscal 2004, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 38,443 employment-based visas were issued to people of Indian birth, of which 8,363 were for managerial, executive or professional careers. The rest went to craftsmen, artisans, educators, and other workers.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Service doesn’t publish the number of petitions denied or pending, so we have no way of knowing how many businesses have been frustrated in their efforts to bring their top employees to the United States.

The new ban means that all petitions filed after Oct. 1 will have to wait five years to be considered. This is sheer lunacy on the part of the State Department.

While a fierce controversy rages over immigration in this country, these are people who, we can all agree, should be welcomed with open arms.

They are the best and brightest, coming here to work for established businesses that are prosperous enough to have multinational operations. They are at the top of their fields, and work tirelessly to expand their companies here. Telling companies that they can’t bring top executives home to corporate headquarters is a senseless policy, which will inhibit the growth of thousands of major U.S. companies and offer one more incentive, along with burdensome taxes and regulations, for corporate flight to offshore havens.

On the diplomatic level, we know that economic relations are an essential component of strong international alliances. After a mixed bag during the Cold War and the early Clinton years, India and the United States have finally built a fledgling level of trust, due largely to economic interdependence.

When large sums of money move back and forth between two countries, the two governments have to work together. This association is strengthened by the personal and cultural ties that develop as the populations of both countries become more aware of and connected to each other through commerce.

Economic and cultural ties to India, the world’s largest democracy, and the region’s one stable democracy, can only advance strategic U.S. interests in Asia.

We don’t know why the U.S. State Department has made this decision (it has kept its internal deliberations private), but keeping highly skilled and educated people out of the country is no way to help the American economy.

Immigration is a complex and emotional issue, but even in this politically charged environment, highly skilled corporate executives should be immigrants whom everyone can support.

To advance the economic, diplomatic, and security interests of the United States, this misguided policy should be reversed.

Dheeraj Chand is president of Desis for Texas, a political-action group promoting the interests of South Asian – Americans.