Stealth protectionism on the immigration front is surfacing again in Congress. Two odd bedfellows -- self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (D.VT) and A+ anti-immigration lawmaker, Chuck Grassley (R. IA) -- are at it again. Earlier in the year, the duo inserted the Employ American Workers Act into the stimulus legislation (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) -- something I called "Protectionist Turducken" -- to prevent the hiring of H-1B workers by recipients of TARP and Federal Reserve funding.
On Nov. 19, they proposed the "Employ America Act," a bill (S. 2804) which would require employers of over 100 workers who lay off 50 or more employees to also terminate any workers with nonimmigrant visas who were hired in the last 12 months. The nonimmigrant terminations would be effective 60 days after the employer issues a notice under WARN (the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act), 29 U.S.C. 2101 et seq. Their bill would also prohibit the the Secretary of Homeland Security from approving "a petition by an employer for any visa authorizing employment in the United States" unless 12 months have passed since the issuance of a WARN notice. The broad language of the ban on new employment-based visa petition approvals would seemingly cover nonimmigrant workers as well as foreign citizens in the U.S. or abroad who seek green cards through employer sponsorship.
As the National Foundation for American Policy reported recently, wait times for employment-based green cards are now ranging up to 12 to 20 years because of inadequate annual quotas which have not changed since 1990. A Wall St. Journal editorial accurately summarized the problem of interminably long immigrant visa queues:
The costs of losing this human capital are high. Between 1990 and 2007, an astounding 25% of publicly traded companies in the U.S. that were started with venture capital had an immigrant founder. Many foreigners come initially to study or do research at our superior colleges and universities. But the barriers to remaining are forcing them out. A survey of 1,200 international students taken in March shows we can no longer take for granted that skilled immigrants will want to stay and work in America. Some 55% of Chinese, 53% of Europeans and 38% of Indian students worried about being able to obtain permanent residence in the U.S.
Canada, Australia, the European Union and others have streamlined processes for hiring foreign workers to lure skilled immigrants away from the U.S. Unless Congress addresses these long wait times and low quotas, more immigrants will take the skills they acquire in U.S. universities and use them to help other nations prosper.
What sane persons from abroad would cast their own and their family's lot with America when the Commissars in Congress subject their futures to the vagaries of economic fluctuations that, over the course of decades, cause unavoidable workforce reductions? Heaven help us if Sens. Sanders and Grassley have their micro-managerial way.