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'Skilled immigrants would boost up US economy'

February 06, 2013 14:11 IST

Struggling to come out of recession, the US must find ways including granting more H-1B visas to attract skilled immigrants to boost its ailing economy, top Indian-American experts have told lawmakers.

"If you look at all the data, every single study that's been done, it shows that when you bring skilled immigrants in they create jobs. Right now, we're in an innovation economy. Skilled immigrants are more important than ever, not only to create jobs, but to make us innovative and help us solve major problems," said Vivek Wadhwa, director of research, Pratt School of Engineering, DukeUniversity.

"So bring the right people in and you will make the pie bigger for everyone, and we can bring in more unskilled as well because we will have a bigger economy. We need them.

"The population of America will decline unless we, you know, keep immigration going, at least at the pace that it is," Wadhwa told US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on immigration convened by the House Judiciary Committee.

Puneet Arora, vice president, Immigration Voice, said it's important to protect American workers and at the same time have a robust immigration system where skilled immigrants can come in and fill real needs.

"One of the problems that we have today is that we've restricted the mobility of the skilled workers that come into the country. They are trapped in jobs for long periods where promotions can be denied, where they have no way of going to another employer that's willing to offer a market wage or advancement based on the experience that they've  gained over a period of time and towards the skills that are really required where the demand for jobs is," Dr Arora said.

Prominent among measures pushed by these Indian-American experts included substantial jump in H-1B visas, removing country specific caps for legal permanent residency, automatic green card to those earning masters and doctorate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Arora said the benefits of removing per-country limits will accrue to only one nation in this world - the US.

"Ultimately, we do not care how you fix the system. We just want it fixed. Not in five years, not in ten years. Now, this year," he argued.

"We're extremely encouraged by the introduction of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 in the Senate and we really hope that a similar bipartisan bill will be introduced in the House. This innovation economy is global and the ripe export markets and the foreign professionals in America creating products for these markets will not wait forever," Arora said.

Responding to a question, Wadhwa argued that the US was not in a position to lose time on the skills because its economy is in a slump.

"We're in the middle of a major reinvention. Our competitors are rising. Immigrants are fleeing. We have to fix the immediate problem of skilled immigrants, the million skilled immigrants legally here waiting for green cards. We don't talk about them. We need to fix that ASAP, and we need to do the other things you're talking about, without doubt. But we can't wait on the million, because they're leaving. And America is bleeding talent right now," he said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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