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Group pushes reforms to attract skilled foreigners

Posted on November 10, 2011
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Group pushes reforms to attract skilled foreignersWith efforts to reform immigration in broad strokes blocked in Congress, a group led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to convince Nashville leaders to back new visa rules and other smaller reforms meant to help business.

The Partnership for a New American Economy, a group of mayors and business leaders who favor immigration reform, is asking business to lean on Congress and other elected officials to support reforms that would make it easier for companies to hire foreign workers and for international students to remain after they graduate from American universities.

Such reforms will help the country attract and retain highly skilled workers who will stimulate the economy and create more jobs than the few that they take, supporters of the effort said Monday.

“We have huge shortages,” Jeremy Robbins, a policy adviser to Bloomberg, told a meeting of Tennessean reporters and editors. “There are companies that are just dying to get the scientists they need, the engineers that they need, to grow, and they can’t get those people. … If they can’t get the core engineer, they’re not going to create all the other jobs that they have throughout their company.”

The effort has already won over Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is a member of the year-old group. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce also backs the campaign, hosting a panel discussion Monday to discuss changes to immigration laws that they believe would be advantageous to business.

The group hopes businesspeople and other leaders in places such as Nashville can convince Congress to pass immigration reforms without being waylaid by emotional issues such as border control, status checks and amnesty for undocumented workers. Those issues have made a broader reform effort in Congress politically impossible in recent years.

“There will be a moment in time when they’ll need business cover to make that tough vote on some sort of a package,” said Bert Kaufman, vice president of Business Forward, a Washington, D.C., group helping coordinate the campaign. “So much of this effort is to lay the groundwork for that time.”

Special visas favored

The group is backing ideas such as creating special visas for entrepreneurs who pledge to start businesses in the United States. Entrepreneur visas will help draw talented business people away from countries such as Canada, China and India.

The group also wants to make it easier for foreign students to remain in the country after they finish their educations.

“It used to be we could have terrible immigration laws because where else were you going to go?” Robbins said. “You want to come here. But you talk to Indian and Chinese students, … they’re now going back.”

The group is working with the administration of President Barack Obama to try to ease some of the procedures for getting visas. Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, appeared alongside Robbins at the Nashville Chamber’s panel Monday.

“Competition is increasing for foreign talent,” Mayorkas said. “We see talented individuals starting businesses in Canada, in China, in India because to some extent the United States is more foreboding than it should be.”

The group is also working with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. Similar efforts to recruit support from business groups are under way in other states, Robbins said.

The organization also has been taking businesses’ suggestions for potential reforms.

‘Lack of leadership’

Colin Reed, the chairman and chief executive of Gaylord Entertainment Co., said his company would like to see the process of obtaining a tourist visa made easier.

Potential visitors who have to obtain a visa before entering the U.S. — a group that includes residents of China, India and Brazil — must endure long waits and State Department interviews just to get permission to enter the country for a few weeks.

Reed praised Bloomberg’s campaign and the efforts of administration officials such as Mayorkas to make it easier to obtain visas. But he said they can do little without more action from Congress.

“I think the problem is we have a lack of leadership in Washington tackling these issues,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what these guys do, we’ve got to have stronger leadership in both branches of government to tackle these issues and not dance around the outside.”

Chas Sisk

8 Nov 2011

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