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CEOs Support Immigrant Workers


Monday, January 27, 2014

At a Wall Street Journal-sponsored forum late last year, more than a hundred CEOs from throughout the U.S. gathered to discuss immigration law and policy. These American corporate leaders concluded that immigration at all levels is good for business in the U.S.

The group, in a vote, selected immigration reform as its top policy priority, in front of hot-topic issues such as education and even tax reform. The CEOs defined their focus as: “The U.S. needs immigration reform to retain talented foreign workers who have been educated in the U.S., attract talent to the U.S. and allow a freer flow of people into and out of the U.S. Immigration policy should mirror labor needs.”

President Obama, definitely an audience friendly to such priorities, attended the meeting to discuss the CEOs concerns with them. Unfortunately, the president hasn't had much opportunity to act on immigration issues in his second term. For example, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill last year, but the Republican-led House never took it up for a vote.

While many of the CEOs' concerns lay simply with maintaining a ready-to-work labor force, international talent at the professional and executive level can't be underestimated as a way to boost the bottom line of business. U.S. immigration policy is among the strictest on the globe, and not even the most creative and talented of non-U.S. minds are spared the red tape associated with it. 

Fortunately, highly-skilled and talented immigrants can be exempted from U.S. immigration quotas. However, the process of demonstrating that a given individual falls into the category creates its own secondary layer of bureaucratic quagmire, which in turn saps resources from organizations or businesses that attempt to negotiate it on behalf of their recruits.
 
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that the demand for highly-skilled talent has grown globally, as has the supply. Countries like the United States, which create more difficult barriers to immigration, limit the ability of their business communities to compete for talent from this global pool. At the same time, emerging economies have been able successful in attracting highly-talented workers from the international pool by offering incentives and lower hurdles to immigration.

While U.S. policy does carve out an exception for the talented, it still does little to make recruitment and retention of highly-skilled internationals easy for U.S. businesses. In this era of a globalization and international commerce, this is something that will need to change in order to keep American business competitive in the global marketplace.

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