RICHARD N. HAASS: Well, good morning. Thank you -- (chuckles) -- a shout-out. Good morning. I'm Richard Haass and I want to welcome one and all to today's symposium here at the Council on Foreign Relations.
This is all part of a continued effort here to highlight the issue of immigration reform in the United States. This morning's events, though, are also part of something larger, an initiative here that the Council on Foreign Relations is undertaking as part of its 90th birthday year, and the theme is renewing America.
Now, throughout our history the council has focused largely, as you might expect, on the classic questions of American foreign policy: the use of force, the use of diplomacy and other tools. But in the immediate future and possibly beyond, we'll also be looking closely at issues that traditionally fell in the basket of what we thought of as domestic -- immigration policies, to be sure, but also issues like education, debt, trade, infrastructure -- essentially many of us believe will constitute the principle challenges to U.S. power and ultimately our ability to lead abroad. It's no accident, I would argue, that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, has talked about our debt as the principle national security challenge facing the United States and the world today -- not a rising China but a rising debt.
Basically, about two years ago in July of 2009 the Council on Foreign Relations released an independent task force report on U.S. immigration policy, and I saw copies of it piled up outside, and today's symposium uses this report as a baseline or a launching pad for continuing the discussion.
The task force was co-chaired by Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida; Mack McLarty, the former White House chief of staff. And Ted Alden, the Bernard Schwartz senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations, who you'll be seeing in a minute, directed the project.
This report -- and it was a consensus report -- said that we need three things -- and by "we," I mean the United States -- first, a more efficient and welcoming legal immigration system that responds to labor market needs and enhances U.S. competitiveness by attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants.
Secondly, there is a requirement for better enforcement to discourage illegal immigration into the United States, and thirdly, there is a requirement for a humane pathway to allow the more than 10 million of migrants currently living illegally, which is the legacy in many ways of previous immigration policy failures -- that they need to have a pathway to earn the right to remain in this country legally.
Speaking personally, I find a lot about this comprehensive approach to commend itself and I think it's noteworthy that the -- this administration's recent blueprint for immigration reform, which was released after the president's speech in El Paso, closely tracks this report's recommendations. That said, the summer of 2009, while only 24 months ago, seems a lot longer than that and may in some ways be longer than that or longer ago than that politically.
And recommendations that look to many people to be sound, sensible and centrist now look politically unachievable. So this symposium is asking the question -- and I think it's the right question -- whether there are ways to move ahead on immigration and immigration reform if we can't move ahead comprehensibly, in particular where there are ways to move ahead legislatively, whether there are ways to move ahead administratively and, above all, piecemeal. If you can't have everything you want, can you get something you want and begin to make progress to bring about immigration reform in the small and the specific if you can't bring it about in the comprehensive and the large?
All this takes place against the reality that the rest of the world is moving. And by that I mean while the United States is debating, or in some cases not debating, immigration policy, the rest of the world is changing. China and India, for example, are luring back many of their science and engineering graduates from American universities.
Other countries, Germany, Canada, Australia, just to name three, have become much more aggressive in attracting and retaining skilled immigrants. I think the fact is if we continue not to act, to put it bluntly, if this country continues to dither on this issue, the United States, American society, the American economy will simply lose many of the advantages that have come from this country being where so many bright, ambitious people have wanted to visit and to stay and to build their lives.
I'm pleased today that we will have the mayor of New York, my mayor, my neighbor, Mike Bloomberg, with us today to deliver the keynote address, and Mayor Bloomberg has been an outspoken voice on the immigration debate and continues to focus attention on issues that have not moved within the administration and the Congress.
Before I hand things over to Matthew Winkler, who will kick off this first session, let me just recognize, first of all, Luis Ubinas and the Ford Foundation for their investment in this effort and their real commitment to immigration reform. Secondly, let me thank Jeb Bush and Mack McLarty for all the leadership they provided to task force and to Ted Alden as well for crafting a report that stands the test of time.
Let me also thank other people who participated in the task force. Here at the council in Washington, I'd like to thank Anya Schmemann and her team at the task force, as well as Chris Tuttle and all those in the meetings program, who make events like this possible, and last but far from least, let me thank you all.
This is one of those critical issues that I believe will have tremendous consequences, not just for this country's competitiveness but also for our ability to integrate and move forward as a society and indeed in some ways for our national security.
So again, I want to thank you for your interest in this issue and for coming here this morning.
With that, over to you.
MATTHEW WINKLER: Thank you very much.
And what might make some sense in this discussion, immigration as an engine of the economy, to provide, say, 10 facts that here's hoping illuminate the issue and, as was just suggested so eloquently, put us right at the center of something that is probably, we hope, the most critical and necessary issue to be dealt with for the U.S. economy.
One, today's immigrants are more diverse than they were a century ago. Immigrants have more than twice the rate of U.S.-born Ph.D.s. On average, immigrants improve the living standards of Americans by boosting wages and lowering prices. Immigrants are not a net drain on the federal government budget. Taxes paid by immigrants and their children, legal and unauthorized, exceed the cost of services that they use.
Funding for enforcement in the number of unauthorized immigrants has risen since 2003. Immigrants do not disproportionately burden U.S. correctional facilities and institutions. Recent immigrants reflect America's melting pot culture, much akin to the immigrants of a century ago. The skill composition of immigrants is lower when compared to Canada and Australia because of U.S. policies that emphasize family relationships over skill.
Immigrants start new businesses and file patents at higher rates than U.S. citizens. And finally, the U.S. is issuing a declining number of visas for high-skilled workers. And you know, what I'd like to do is start, you know, from U.S. policy.
If you look at U.S. immigration today, it satisfies no one. There's not an American business that's satisfied, not immigrants, not their families, not voters, not our elected officials. The political debate is focused on border security.
So first, Ale, I'd like to turn to you. Do you agree or disagree that our system was designed for sort of another era and needs a fundamental change?
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Well, let me -- let me answer that by saying I'm not sure I agree, if I may, with the framework of the disjunctive, that it's designed for another era or that it's in need of repair. I would say that it's in need of repair, and I'm not sure whether it was designed for a different era or not. But yes, I do not think the objective of spurring economic growth is being achieved as ably as I think the system intended.
WINKLER: And, you know, if we could turn to the economic impact of the current system, what is the consequence of having, you know, green cards issued for family reasons while something like 85 percent, and yet 15 percent go to skilled workers?
MAYORKAS: It was interesting, if I can, you mentioned 10 facts, and I don't have at my disposal the empirical data to assess each one of those 10 facts, but you did make a point, I think, that you said that our system seems to prioritize family unity over, perhaps, economic growth.
And I think that our system has three overarching objectives: family unity, economic growth and humanitarian relief, and I'm not sure it's an either/or proposition or it's a prioritization of one or the other. I think really we have to limit our focus on the economic growth aspect and say, that is a critical goal of our immigration system; are we achieving it. It's not that we are prioritizing one of the other goals at the expense of -- but rather do our laws, do our regulations, do our policies actually achieve the objective of maximizing economic growth through the introduction of talent from all over -- all over -- all over the world.
WINKLER: Let's take something that's really tangible here, and, Ted, I think you've really examined this quite thoroughly, which is, you know, if you can get the discussion of immigration closer to the whole subject of money, where the money is, where the money is for the U.S. and, say, focus on visas, for example, what about visas as an impediment to tourism, you know, business in general?
And, Ted, I know you've studied this pretty carefully.
EDWARD ALDEN: Thanks very much, Matt.
And I'd like to second Ale's comment. I think, you know, one of the issues that we're hoping to highlight today is that there has not been enough kind of systematic thinking in action in the United States that connects up immigration with our economic performance. And I think the reason for that is that for most of modern U.S. history, we haven't really had to worry about this problem.
The United States was, for many reasons, the most attractive country in the world for all sorts of immigrants, including very highly skilled and talented immigrants. If you were the best at what you did, you wanted to come to the United States. This was the place where your talents were going to be rewarded to the highest level.
What we've seen happen as a result of what Fareed Zakaria has called "the rise of the others" is that there's a lot more competition in the world now for the best and the brightest, that they are a scarce resource, and the United States has not really made that flip to recognize that it's not just a matter of sitting back and saying, okay, people are always going to want to come here because we are the most dynamic economy in the world..
We now have to compete for those individuals, and I don't think our immigration system as a whole has reflected that switch. It's been a problem of deciding who to keep out, because the demand was always much, much greater than our ability to take in immigrants, and that continues to be the case at a kind of macro level.
But in terms of the most skilled immigrants, they have a lot of choices, and we haven't thought about, well, what are the things that we need to do through our visa system, through our green card system, through our universities to attract and keep these people in the United States. And that's the mind shift that we as a country have not made.
WINKLER: So what would -- what would you do right away, or what could we do right away with respect to visas?
ALDEN: You know, I think there are -- there are things that could be done administratively. There are things that could be done legislatively. I think legislatively the most important thing is to make it easy for foreign students in the United States, those coming to American universities -- particularly in science and engineering fields, where the demand is so high -- to make it easy for them to remain and work in the United States, to offer them a fairly fast transition to a green card for permanent residence and citizenship.
And, you know, In Canada, the process of citizenship takes three years. You know, here, if you're -- if you're an Indian graduate student of science, you're lucky you get on an H-1B visa. You're looking often at six years on that visa and maybe an eight, 10-year wait before you get your green card, then another several years before citizenship -- this incredibly convoluted process, which is difficult and expensive for the immigrants throughout.
So that would be one element. On the visa side, I think there's still a huge amount that we can do just to make the system work more efficiently. And I don't want to go into the whole realm of security concerns. There are a lot of legitimate ones with the visa system. But people need to know that if they want to come to the United States and they apply for a visa, they will get a decision in a prompt fashion.
Sometimes the decision's going to be no, but it needs to be a system that operates quickly. We as a country lose these huge conventions. The U.S. Travel Association had a recent report, World Petroleum Congress 2014. Houston thought it was going to get it. The consensus of the industry was no, it's going to be too difficult for people who want to travel to that convention to get visas to come to the United States -- 9,000 visitors, millions of dollars in economic activity for Houston out the window. You multiply that by a thousand, and that's the kind of problems that we're dealing with.
WINKLER: You know, some of the research that's come out of CFR shows that something like the number of temporary visas for high-skilled workers has doubled since 1996 while the number of green cards has remained the same. I mean, how big a problem is that right there?
ALDEN: I'd like to defer to Vivek on some of this, but this is increasingly the bottleneck. You know, the bottleneck is that -- and again, I won't, you know, get into all the technicalities, but there are, you know, particularly for Chinese and Indians, for the two biggest countries in the world that are producing thousands and thousands of highly trained students, there are real hard caps on the number of those individuals who can get green cards every year, and that's a situation that -- those caps have been in place for decades and not updated to reflect the enormous changes that we've seen in Asia, which have really, you know, transformed the global economy and they're transforming our economy, whether we like it or not.
MAYORKAS: I think the wait is six years, if I'm not mistaken, with respect to those countries, and people are not willing -- industry is not willing to wait six years and people are not willing to wait six years when markets -- other markets are readily available to them.
Ted speaks of the numerical limits and especially, I think, most acutely with respect to particular countries, and that's a very macro point. There are also, I think you referred, Matthew, to some of the smaller things that we can do to change things. The high-tech companies have articulated to me that they are -- they find it very difficult to compete for talent when we do not allow family members of H-1B workers to obtain employment in the United States. Other countries do.
And so a spouse of a high-skilled worker who herself or himself wants to be gainfully employed cannot be gainfully employed in the United States as a spouse of an H-1B visa holder.
WINKLER: Well, Vivek, you know, is there anything that you see that is below the radar that right now is particularly relevant to this issue?
VIVEK WADHWA: Let me address some of the issues we just discussed. For example, our U.S. policy is dated. If you're a foreign student coming here for a Ph.D., you have to go to the consulate in India or China or wherever it is. First of all, you're made to treat like -- you're treated like a third-class citizen in those consulates. Just try going there in front of the consuls. They really treat you like dirt. It's like -- in India, it's like the days of the British raj, when the British would treat you like that, number one.
Number two, you get in front of the consul; they ask you, is your intent to stay permanently in the United States.
They ask you the same question seven different ways. If you blink wrongly and if you even hint that you might, you know, indeed want to work in the United States after you graduate or stay there permanently, you're out, OK? That's the -- that's the way the system works today.
Then we talk about -- you know, these -- these dependents of H1 visas, as Ale just talked about. In Saudi Arabia, you know, we're berating Saudi Arabia for not letting women work. If you are the wife of a scientist who's here working for a top university, you're not allowed to work. In many states, you can't get a driver's license. You can't get a Social Security number.
We treat these skilled workers worse than -- that, you know, women are treated in most other countries, other than perhaps Saudi Arabia. So, yes, we are in the '60s, and we don't recognize it. We're looking around. Right now, our senators and congressmen tirade against skilled immigrants -- they're taking our jobs away -- and they keep slapping fees on top of H-1Bs. They're looking for, you know, fraud and abuse because companies are trying to serve American companies and get jobs done over here.
This is -- when the world looks at America, we are as disgusted with American policies as Americans are with Saudi Arabian women not being able to drive. You have to realize that we sit here and we don't have a perspective of how the world is looking at us. So if you're in India right now, it used to be that if you were in -- you know, one of the -- IRT is the top university in India. There's seven of them right now.
If you're an IRT graduate, by default you would come to America because this was the place to be. If you're an IRT graduate today, you show off to your friends that you didn't even apply to an American company; you joined a local firm, because it's a matter of pride that you're working for a local company, and IRT graduates get better jobs in India. They make more money, their career progression is better than if they came to the United States.
You know, Ale said that right now it takes six years for a skilled immigrant to get a green card. That's false. If you're an Indian -- one of my -- I teach at Duke University. When one of my masters students graduates, the process is that they get an OPT visa, a temporary work visa for a while, and then they can get an H-1B visa. Then two or three years later, the company decides to file for a green card. That's when the clock starts ticking.
Today, we're processing applications that were filed in 2002 for Indians. That was before the backlog became works. My guess is that if one of my students started the process today, it would take them 20 or 30 years to get a green card based on the current delays, just extrapolating linearly.
You know, we keep talking about the 10 million, 12 million unskilled immigrants. Guess how many skilled workers there are legally in the United States -- doctors, engineers, scientists, computer programmers -- waiting for green cards? One million. His department doesn't publish that data because it's probably too embarrassing for them.
The 1 million skilled immigrants in the United States today are waiting for green cards. We actually added the numbers up, you know, using our -- (inaudible) -- this is as of 2008. My guess is the number is probably 1.2 million right now here legally. How many visas do we have every year for skilled immigrants? One hundred and twenty thousand in the EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 categories, plus there's a 7 percent per country limit.
You know, if you talk about dated policies, the 7 percent limit came -- was implemented decades ago because we were trying to limit the number of Japanese, I believe. There was some story behind that, but the result is that out of this million backlog about 350 (thousand) to 400,000 of them are Indians, about a quarter-million are Chinese. So 8,400 visas available per year, 250,000 people waiting -- guess how long it's going to take. So the result is that they're going back home.
WINKLER: How do you -- how do you, though, respond to the perception, which is -- which is widespread, that foreign workers are taking American jobs?
WADHWA: Well, to some extent, that's true. They do. The reason why America is what it is, is because we've -- I mean, generation after generation, we've had waves of immigrants coming here, making Americans work harder, making them compete for their jobs, and they have caused America to compete, and this is why we didn't stagnate like Europe did, because we've always had these waves of people coming in, undercutting salaries, making people work harder, you know, stay up at night to compete. That's what America's about.
Now, we can decide that we want to stop all foreign competition and close the doors, but we'll go the way of Venezuela. We'll go the way of these, you know, countries, which became third-world countries (that were ?) prosperous. It would be a disaster for American competitors.
WINKLER: So how do you get some harmonic convergence with the politicians who are --
WADHWA: Well, you have to fine-tune it. First of all, you have to acknowledge that it is indeed 1960s policies. We're back in the days when it was just us and the evil empire. Those were the only two superpowers. It's not like that anymore.
The rest of the world is rising rapidly. You're seeing momentum all over the world. Even in Ecuador, you're going to begin to see startups happening. Mexico is trying to set up a high-tech center in Cabo, of all the places, because it's safer than other places. So all over the world you're seeing these high techs.
Chile, I'll definitely talk about startup Chile. Chile is now offering $40,000 to any entrepreneur from anywhere in the world that wants to come and live there just for six months -- no -- visas are no issue -- $40,000 for free, just for starting up a company over there.
MAYORKAS: If I can jump in, apparently at my own peril -- (laughter) -- the -- actually, Vivek, the argument -- so the tech companies say that one of the reasons why they have difficulty competing for the H-1B talent is because, for example, we as a matter of policy do not allow, as a matter of regulation do not allow the spouse of an H-1B worker, high-skilled worker, to be -- to be employed. They make the argument that it is not a one-for-one job displacement formula; that if in fact you let the spouse work, you are indeed taking a job from an American worker. That is the argument against allowing the spouse to work.
WADHWA: That's what the Saudi Arabians say about the women -- that women will take our jobs away. It's the same logic.
MAYORKAS: But you -- but you mentioned that they do compete. The argument in favor of allowing the spouse to work is that the skilled worker, in drawing the skilled worker here, that skilled worker creates far more -- far many more American jobs than does the spouse replace one, so --
WADHWA: But let's look at the humane aspect of it. We're in America with the Immigration Department talking about why women shouldn't be allowed to work. I mean, we're talking about women, because predominantly, the H-1Bs are males. The spouses can't work. Does that -- does that make sense over here in this country?
And by and large, the spouses are highly educated. So we're worried about -- you know, we're not going to allow the spouses of skilled workers to work because it might impact the American workforce. This is American thinking. If this is not 1960s thinking, then what is? You're seeing it play out, you know, in front of you, folks.
MAYORKAS: I'm not -- I'm not sure I would view that issue through the lens of gender, quite frankly. I'm not --
WADHWA: It is a gender issue, though. The reality is that the majority that these companies are hiring are males.
MAYORKAS: I mean, Ted, I don't know if you'd be willing to arbitrate this -- (laughter) -- but I haven't -- I haven't heard --
WADHWA: I'll calm down.
MAYORKAS: No, no, no, I haven't -- I haven't heard that issue articulated through the -- through the lens of gender discrimination.
Look, the question I have -- and it dovetails, Ted, with something that you said -- is, Vivek, you mentioned that now the graduate of one of the preeminent Indian universities will actually consider it bragging rights to be employed by a local firm. Is that by virtue of the fact that United States policy has made the United States less attractive to that talent, or is it because of the rise in fact of the home country's prominence on the economic --
WADHWA: Both factors -- both factors are equally important.
ALDEN: I mean, I think that's -- you know, that's the situation we're in, which is both of these things are going on. I think, you know, there's no -- there's no question that these countries would have done a much better job in retaining their own talent, regardless of what the United States has done. The question is, do we want to push these people away, and too, too much of what we do on the policy front pushes these people away, at our cost.
WINKLER: Nobody on this stage wants to push people away, right? So what is the way to convince policymakers to accept that as a given to begin with?
ALDEN: Well, you know, I think that this issue is stuck in a lot of ways, which is, you know, what Richard noted in his opening remarks, and I'm not sure what the right combination of arguments or political pressure is that unsticks it.
What I do know is that as a country, we are in an economic situation that is tougher than we have been in for generations. There was a McKenzie study out last week looking at job prospects over the next decade, and only under the most optimistic set of circumstances, levels of job creation equal to those we saw in the 1990s, which were very high, do we get back to anything like full employment over the next decade.
So it seems to me everything we need to do has to be focused on job creation. One of the most troubling things in the McKenzie study was looking at the rate of new job creation. You know, the strange thing about the United States economy is we destroy jobs at an extraordinary rate all the time. The reason our unemployment has historically been low is that we create them faster than any other country.
Well, you look at the last decade, that rate of new job creation has dropped dramatically. So, you know, one question at the top of the agenda ought to be, how do we encourage the job creators. Well, it gets back to Vivek's work about immigrant entrepreneurship. High-skilled immigrants are a tremendous source of new corporate startups. These new corporate startups hire people. I mean, that ought to be front and center, it seems to me, in this debate.
WINKLER: Related to that, the U.S. travel association said that a smarter visa system would create 1.3 million American jobs, and, Ted, unemployment is 9.1 percent. So what do you do?
ALDEN: Well, you know, this is our largest single-service export, tourism, but what -- again, what we've seen over the last decade, the U.S. share of global tourism has been flat for a decade. The number of global tourists has risen by 60 percent over that decade, again, a lot of it fueled from these fast-growing developing economies, from the Brazils, from the Chinas, from the Indias, only they're not going to the United States. They're going to Western Europe, and one of the reasons is the difficulty and expense of getting a visa to come to the United States. The Travel Association argues -- and I tend to agree with them -- make that process easier. Bring more people to the United States. That's a lot of easy job creation. That's something that all we need to do is make our own procedures more efficient, and there's a real economic windfall from that. Why not do the simple things like that that we can do?
MAYORKAS: I think that's a very -- I think that's a very important point. There are process improvements that we can make that can have material impact and positively so. So you mentioned the creation of jobs, Ted. The immigrant investor visa program, the EB-5 program, is a program that provides for an immigrant to receive a visa if a sufficient investment of capital is made, and jobs are created directly or indirectly through the development of a -- of a new business.
Our processing of that program has been suboptimal, and so we have needed to address it. And we received tremendous feedback from the EB-5 community with respect to our administration of that program, and three weeks ago, I think we made a very innovative proposal to really reinvent that process, and we're receiving public comments and response to our proposal.
But it speaks of expedited processing, the hiring of the expertise required to really analyze these very sophisticated proposals, having an expert panel conduct interviews of applicants. It's very innovative for our agency.
Vivek has spoken in Silicon Valley. We attended a roundtable discussion, and Vivek spoke of the fact that my agency's H-1B policy memorandum has had an adverse effect on immigrant entrepreneurs' ability to obtain an H-1B visa, and so we are looking at that policy and specifically one aspect of that policy to determine whether in fact the policy is what it should be.
WINKLER: Ted and Vivek have characterized where we are as literally a crisis of significant proportions. Just wondered, in your role -- you're the policymaker -- what are the victories that you see or you would like to achieve or, you think, you can achieve?
ALDEN: Just to be fair to Ale, Congress is the policymaker on a lot of this. I mean, the administration operates within a set of constraints, so it's not like you can wave a magic wand.
WADHWA: (Cross talk.)
ALDEN: It's not like he can wave a magic wand and fix all this.
WADHWA: Yeah. He has to take the corporate line here, the government line, and I'm sure that he doesn't believe in it, so -- (laughter) -- you can't believe in it. But he has to sit here and smile and pretend he does.
ALDEN: I didn't say that.
MAYORKAS: And that concludes my -- (inaudible) --
WINKLER: So what I want to know is, are you totally ineffectual.
MAYORKAS: There are -- there are three layers of influence in the -- in the administration of immigration policy. There is -- and it is hierarchical. There is the statutory framework, which is really the ultimate design. There is regulatory authority, which is intended to implement the intent of the legislature. When it enacts statutes, there are implementing regulations, and then there are policies beneath that.
We as an agency can implement policies and we as a department can promulgate regulations. But really, when one speaks of numerical limits, when one speaks of per-country caps, those are a matter of statutory reform, and I think we all know how well comprehensive immigration reform is proceeding through the legislative process. So I don't know if there's a tremendous level of optimism right now with respect to a fundamental redesign of our country's visa structure.
WINKLER: Given all that, is there anything that you can do that, you would say, makes a difference for the better, and what is that?
MAYORKAS: Well, the EB-5 program, I think it's capped out at 10,000 visas a year, but, you know, that's a -- that's a lot of job creation and a lot of investment of capital in the United States economy. I think our proposal, when it is implemented and when it comes into effect, will have a real difference, a material difference with respect to the success of the EB-5 program.
If in fact we reform our H-1B policy -- and I can share a little bit about what that issue is. If in fact we reform our H-1B policy so that immigrant entrepreneurs can access the H-1B program with greater facility than is now the case, then, Vivek, I think you would argue that we're going to see a lot more entrepreneurs use the H-1B issue.
WADHWA: What he's talking about is that right now if you're starting a company, you can't -- and the company is taking off, you raise capital and everything is set, you're going to start employing Americans, that company can hire anyone but you if you're an immigrant who founded that company. So the problem is that there are so many tight restrictions on the H-1B visa, if he fixes the problem so that if I start a company and it employs Americans, and if I'm working for it, it's well-capitalized and so on, I can get a visa, that'll allow thousands of people who are already in Silicon Valley to start to create their startups, to start their businesses. It will allow my students at Duke to do that. That's a quick fix.
MAYORKAS: So Vivek, when we -- when we spoke of this issue in Silicon Valley, I think you mentioned the part of the policy that dealt with the sole -- the sole employee.
MAYORKAS: Right. So this is the -- this is issue in a nutshell. The H-1B visa is for the skilled worker. So what about the immigrant entrepreneur who's actually starting his or her own company? Of course, Vivek, under your paradigm, it would be just a "his," but let's say -- (laughter) --
WADHWA: I'll get back to that.
MAYORKAS: -- let's say -- let's say -- I'm just going to push for equality for a moment -- (laughter) -- so let's just say that the immigrant entrepreneur wants to utilize an H-1B visa, and the entrepreneur really starts his or her own company and is the only employee. The H-1B law provides that the employer must exercise -- I'm sorry -- must have the right of control over the employee in order for that employee to avail him or herself of the H-1B visa.
Does the immigrant entrepreneur, who's really starting him or herself a company, does the company exercise control over that individual if that develop is the sole employee? Under certain corporate structures, that might be the case, if you have a board of directors and the board of directors actually exercises control, determines the salary, determines the conditions of employment and the like.
But it's an issue. It's a legitimate issue, and some might argue that, is that really what the H-1B visa, the skilled worker, was designed for. Was it designed for the individual who comes to this country to start his or her own company and begin to employ others and raise capital and really incubate a company? And I think that's a legitimate policy question and I think it's a legitimate legal analysis that must be undertaken.
I will say when Vivek raised the issue with me in Silicon Valley, I went back to our H-1B policy memo and looked at the section at issue. At the very least, that section is not as well-written as it should be and not as, I think, legally tight as it needs to be as an important policy pronouncement. But then we, I think, need to get to the legal and policy issues that I addressed, and we're looking at that, because we do understand it's significant, a significance of which I was unaware until Vivek articulated it in Silicon Valley.
WADHWA: And again, this is a malfunction of the new era. Today you can create a technology startup with $20,000, which could become a Facebook and employ, you know, tens of thousands of people. It wasn't like that. The graduates of our STEM programs right now are more interested in becoming entrepreneurs than ever before. Before, the norm used to be that you'd join an IBM or a Microsoft. That's what you strived for. Now in the universities, you go there, you're seeing a new spate of entrepreneurship, which everyone wants to participate in.
We want more of that. We want thousands more startups, because of the thousands more startups, you might have a Google or a Facebook in there. The likelihood is out of a thousand, you will have one.
MAYORKAS: And I think that's a critically important point, and it really, Ted, I think speaks to -- what you mentioned earlier is that the new horizon doesn't match with the old structure, and the structure has not changed to account for the -- for the dynamics that we're seeing.
In that very same roundtable, which was hosted at Stanford, there were a number of Stanford business students that were working on these new companies -- something that I don't remember occurring 20 years ago -- but they were not applying to the large financial institutions or the big companies. They were going out, taking a risk and starting something. It is a phenomenon that our statutory scheme does not really account for.
WINKLER: And how would you -- Ted, how would you go about convincing policymakers to get to this new perception that you're talking about?
ALDEN: (Laughter.) Well, you know, if I knew that, I would have -- I would have done it already.
I get back to focusing as much of this discussion as we can on the economy and our needs as an economy in this new world that we're moving into. I think an awful lot of the immigration debate has been focused around the issue of illegal immigration, which is an extremely important one and needs to be addressed. It's been focused around the issue of border security, which is a hugely important issue, the one we've made a lot of progress on, underappreciated progress.
I think far too little attention has been paid to the economic side of this debate, and I just think that that's where everybody in this country is right now. That's issue number one.
WINKLER: So why don't you -- why don't you help us and quantify how you make that argument in an economic context?
ALDEN: Well, I think it really does get back to the -- to the job creation part. I think, you know, there's an unfortunate way in which we talk about the economy that really misunderstands the way -- the way economies work, and I'll use an example that's in the news today.
Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is introducing a bill to require employment verification for all employers, and a lot of that makes sense. In our task force report, we were positive on the direction that E-Verify is taking.
But Smith's argument is, well, that if we put E-Verify in place and anyone who's not authorized to work in this country loses that job as a result, that's going to free up all of these jobs for Americans -- simply not the way economies work. I mean, what's likely to happen is a bunch of those jobs will go underground in a cash economy. In many other cases, businesses will simply go under. In other cases, they'll move abroad.
Economies are not static, and, again, I get back to the point I made about the high level of job destruction in the United States that used to be offset by the high level of job creation. That's where we need to focus on. We need to be looking at the job creation side, rather than imagining there's this sort of fixed number of jobs out there, and we have to decide how to divvy them up, and obviously it would be better to have Americans doing those jobs than to have immigrants doing those jobs than to have illegal immigrants doing those jobs -- to set up a kind of hierarchy.
That's not the way economies work. It's particularly not the way a dynamic economy like the United States has ever worked, and so I think that needs to be a central focus in this debate.
WINKLER: Well, how do you connect immigration to American jobs? -- open immigration to more American jobs?
ALDEN: I think it gets back to the role that immigrants have played in job creation, which is a very strong role. And that's -- I mean, we haven't talked a lot about other sectors, like agriculture and other things. There are a lot of jobs -- there are businesses that just wouldn't be operating in the United States without immigrant labor at all different levels. But I think, you know, the job creation entrepreneurial site is really central to making this argument.
WINKLER: Vivek, what would you say?
WADHWA: I mean, you know, for example, the quick fix over here, if I wanted to create jobs, is that of these million people who are waiting, anyone who buys a house or starts a company can get a green card. They're here legally. They, you know, went by the book. They had the skills. That's why they were admitted over here. So if you put a minimum threshold of $250,000, I'll bet you we would have 50,000 houses sold within, you know, three months of this program being launched. You're talking about a multibillion-dollar stimulus to the economy for zero cost.
So there are smart things we can do like that -- students, let them start their companies. If their companies don't work out, they have to leave or unless they start again. There are a lot of, you know, simple fixes which give a major boost to the economy, because the fact is that if you look at Silicon Valley, during the biggest period of growth in recent history, 1995 to 2005, when the dot-com boom happened, 52 percent of the startups, they were started by immigrants, people born abroad -- 52 percent.
The majority of those people came here as students, and typically 13 years after coming here, they started companies. I mean, I was one of them. I mean, I founded two companies in America. The first one employed a thousand people. The second one employed 200 people. So it's not one-for-one. It's a thousand-for-one, very often, that when you bring the right people in here to this country.
ALDEN: And one of the things we need to do, I think, is to experiment on a small scale, as well. The Canadians have done this. You take -- you take an example. Like, one of -- one of the real concerns that the Canadians have had is that all the immigrants want to move to the three big cities. They want to move to Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. So they set up small-scale schemes to say, well, you can jump the queue, in effect, if you're willing to go live in Winnipeg, a cold, midwestern city that was worried about losing its population.
Well, there's been a revival in Winnipeg. There have been a lot of immigrants coming to Winnipeg on this program. It's revived the economy of Winnipeg. We could do experiments like that with Northeastern cities and other places. We don't.
WINKLER: Mayor Bloomberg, who will be here later today, actually suggested that the way to revive Detroit is to say to any immigrant who wants to come here, please, as soon as possible, and you will have a process of renovation. Do you agree?
ALDEN: I do. I do. There are real-world examples of this.
WINKLER: Why does that work?
ALDEN: I think it works because, you know, when you see immigrants move into these old cities, they revitalize a lot of these neighborhoods. I mean, it creates a local economy. There's a dynamism associated with that. I mean, Detroit's problem is depopulation, right? People are leaving Detroit, and so you have entire neighborhoods where people can't sell their houses, houses are empty, crime goes up because people aren't in the streets. A pretty easy way to address a problem like that, but it takes a lot of experimentation.
WINKLER: On that note, let's open it up to everybody here and take some questions.
QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School, and I've been spending a lot of time in the last two years thinking about jobs. Let me just make one comment.
I came to Washington in 1960 and -- when the Peace Corps was created, and the whole question of all of these immigrants -- the reason we didn't want to hang on to them was we wanted to send them back home to basically create what we've now created. I mean, that was -- I mean, I watched that happen.
I guess the thing that gets me is we don't have a good narrative on how to fix it. I mean, I've heard some ideas here, but nobody tells the story in the way in which the rest of us can really understand the dimensions of the problem and the breadth with enough detail of what we could do about it.
I mean, I kept thinking, for example, that the visa issue was something that the State Department ought to be able to just fix. You do have to have some understanding about all the barriers that exist in each one of these, and if there are other stories -- I mean, I think TIME Magazine did a story on creating jobs, and it had seven or eight different ideas. They all came from overseas, and we have to start learning about, what can we learn from others.
So I'd be interested in how we create a narrative that the people get.
WADHWA: Mitzi, let me give you one narrative. The million skilled immigrants here -- doctors, scientists, lawyers, et cetera -- why don't we just give them green cards right now, because the group I talked about in Silicon Valley, they came here, they got green cards and then they started companies?
Well, these people can't do it. I bet you if we did the same survey of Silicon Valley, you know, two or three years from now, 52 percent wouldn't be founders because they're stuck in the H-1B visa mess. So we just have to provide more green cards.
You know, we keep talking about these work visas. The issue isn't the work visa. The issue is the green cards, the number of green cards. It's a numerical fix. Instead of 120,000 with a 7 percent per-country limit, make it 250,000 with no limit. It'll fix itself within two or three years. It costs nothing, zero.
We're not bringing in a flood of new -- of new people from outside who are going to take American jobs away. These are people who are already here who would now be buying houses, who would now be creating companies, who would now be, you know, digging deep roots over here, becoming Americans like all the others are. It's a subclass. It's a very simple fix.
QUESTIONER: And have the rest of the country hear this narrative.
ALDEN: Can I -- just briefly, I mean, I think the point's a very good one, because we have historically had this immigrant narrative, and it was essentially about what America could do for the immigrants: America as the land of opportunity where you could make good, where you could do better than your parents, and your children would do better than you.
We're in an era where we kind of need a different narrative, which is more about what immigrants can do for us at a time when our country is struggling, and we haven't developed that narrative. I think you're right.
WADHWA: I mean, most people's doctor's are foreign-born these days. If you now start talking about, do you want your doctor to have to go back home, that would be a good message. (Laughter.
WINKLER: We have a question here.
QUESTIONER: Yes, Marisa Lino from Northrop Grumman -- any discussion of changing numbers requires legislation. You're not going to get any legislation in the run-up to an election year. I mean, that's just, I think, pretty clear. The other problem I see -- and I'd be interested in your comments -- if you look at some of the things that the right has said about this issue -- you've got to strengthen our borders, you've got to strengthen our systems, stuff like E-Verify -- E-Verify is only as good as the Social Security database, which is not good. I could use stronger terms.
But it needs to be cleaned up. You need to spend money to clean up the Social Security database. They are -- Congress is right now in the process of eviscerating part of DHS's budget for the -- for the coming year. I mean, we'll see what the ultimate result is, but FY '12 is looking pretty bad for some parts of DHS, I'm sure you would agree.
So I'd be interested in, you know, the kind of narrative that Mitzi was talking about doesn't lend itself easily to a sound bite in an election year. What you need are good sound bites, unfortunately -- sorry to sound so negative.
MAYORKAS: Well, I mean, that wasn't -- I didn't take that as a question. I took that as a comment. But let me -- let me say it really does echo what Mitzi said in terms of the need for a narrative, but what I -- what I understand Vivek and Ted to be articulating is that the narrative is not that it's a one-for-one, that an immigrant with economic potential, whether that be highly skilled or otherwise, who comes to this country displaces an American worker. That is not the narrative that I hear my two colleagues articulate.
The narrative that I hear them articulating is that that individual creates opportunities not just for him or herself and his or her family, but for the surrounding community and the business environment, and so that the net effect -- and Vivek will know the data, because obviously he's an expert -- the net effect of the introduction of that talent -- either at a higher level than our visa policies currently permit or at a speed that our system currently allows -- will be a net positive effect on the creation of jobs in our economy. I think that's the narrative.
WADHWA: We have to educate people the pie gets bigger when you bring, you know, more people. It doesn't -- it's not taking jobs away. You start making the economy boom, and everyone benefits from it.
ALDEN: I mean, just on the legislation, I don't disagree, but you can't help but wonder, where has some of the creativity of our lawmakers gone. I mean, you could actually point to the elements on the table. I mean, Lamar Smith wants all companies to adopt E-Verify. Zoe Lofgren, the ranking member on that committee, has introduced a bill that expands the number of green cards and eases procedures for foreign science and engineering students coming to the United States.
Senators Kerry, Lugar and others support, you know, a startup visa bill that would help with immigrant entrepreneurs, and there's still a lot of support for the DREAM Act for, you know, roughly 2 million kids who've grown up in the United States, are here undocumented because their parents brought them here but still a lot of support for that. Can we imagine a minipackage coming together from those different elements? This is the sort of thing that we used to be able to do in Washington.
So, yes, we can't do the comprehensive bill, but maybe there's something smaller that could deal with some of the different pieces that both sides of the aisle could agree are important. It's depressing to think that our system has lost the capacity for that sort of bargaining. I mean, everybody might put the package together differently, but you could imagine, just from the things out there, a legislative bargain that makes sense, not to say we're going to get it, but --
MAYORKAS: Well, the question is, is the pessimism with respect to legislative prospects leading to a passivity with respect to those proposed legislative pieces, because the E-Verify legislation, I think people expect it to pass the House. Senator Reid had an op-ed piece this morning on the DREAM Act, and it's going to be interesting what happens in the Senate if not the House with respect to whether anything -- any other legislative ideas are put forward as a companion to that E-Verify piece.
And so need for reform requires more than pessimism and passivity, or it requires at least pessimism that triggers activity.
WINKLER: We have a question over here. I just -- before we get to it, could you just explain, though, why the DREAM Act is important for this narrative that you want to create?
ALDEN: Well, you know, I think if you're looking at the question of wasted talent -- I mean, so we're talking about, you know, a lot of this talk has been about immigrant students that we send back.
Well, you look at these kids who have grown up in the United States, gone through high school, want to go on to university, find that door closed -- maybe in some cases, they go to university but they want to work; they find that door closed. They want to go and serve in the military,; they find that door closed.
This is, again, a wealth of talent that we're throwing away. We're basically telling these people, well, you've grown up in the United States, but we are going to close every door on your prospect for bettering yourself.
I mean, honestly, it's hard for me to think of anything more un-American than that, closing those sort of doors to people.
MAYORKAS: So there's a -- there's a -- there's an economic aspect that Ted has articulated to the DREAM Act. I'm not sure the crux of the DREAM Act is really an economic one.
ALDEN: Well, I think it could be. I mean, there's a lot of wasted potential there that we -- you know, again, you get back to the McKenzie study. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs out there right now that are not being filled because we're not training people in our schools and our community colleges to fill those jobs. We can't afford as a society to be throwing away potential.
WINKLER: And Ted, I understand your narrative is really, you know, you want to reward initiative, because that is -- essentially the American way is initiative -- (inaudible) --
ALDEN: Absolutely, absolutely.
WINKLER: Your question?
QUESTIONER: Rob Cortel with Intelex -- just two quick kind of observations and then a question -- one is you really need Michele Bachmann here if you really want to understand the politics of it, because it does relate to the narrative.
A lot of this discussion is around aspects of this issue which appeal to intellectual elites like the people in this room and -- but a lot of the narrative appeals to everybody else. So your part of this narrative is we need these people; they're talented; it'll help make America great and good. The rest of the population hears illegal immigration.
So what you really have to do is turn this to what every politician, including Michele Bachmann, say, which is that they favor legal immigration, and to use that as a take-off to what that actually means in and of itself.
The second point here is that my legal residence is three and a half hours south of here on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay on a little island in Matthews County, just above Williamsburg, and it's to the same point, which is -- which had a crab-picking operation for years, which just about died until they got legal, legal Latin American immigrants, and the attitudes on this island of these few people, that has 800 people -- and they've got 30 workers who come over -- is totally different.
These people are accepted in the community. They're legal immigrants and all that. So if you're going to change the narrative, you actually have to push it down into something that is meaningful to most people inside the population. I just think a lot of this is very elite and effete, almost, in some ways.
And that goes to the third part of it, and this is really a question to all of you. So many of these conversations are around this issue of the educated, high-skilled, high-value worker, but the reality is the country has a deficit of workers in a category that will do jobs most of us won't do, ranging from chicken-plucking to crab-picking to working on the farms and picking tomatoes and things like that. So I'd be interested in hearing how you deal with that.
WADHWA: Well, you know, I've been in the middle of those debates as well. What people argue is that if those cherry-picking jobs paid $20 an hour, you'd find enough Americans to do them. The reason why Americans don't want them is because they're too low. And I've spoken to people on the other side who say that even they were offered $15 an hour plus benefits, Americans don't want to do them. There's emotion over here.
On the skill side, the problem -- the reason why we have, you know, this problem is because in the tech industry, once you're over 40 or when you're 45 years of age, writing old computer languages, you become less valuable. In other words, no one wants to hire someone making $150,000 a year whose skills are dated. Therefore, they want the younger workers in who make $65,000 a year, who are twice as productive. We don't talk about that.
So what happens is -- and this -- and this has been the case always in the tech industry. It has nothing to do with immigration. But because we don't talk about the age issue, now you have this unemployed -- when workers get to be 45, 50 years of age, they can't get unemployment; they can't make $150,000, anymore; they can make $80,000 -- they start complaining that foreigners took our jobs away; we had these H-1Bs; we had to train our replacements and so on.
(Inaudible) -- we're not facing the reality of the situation over here. It's like telling the NFL that you have to hire anyone, regardless of age, you know, but that's what this is all about. If we now want to become a socialist country and have everything being based on equality and protectionism and so on, we'll become a third-world country very rapidly. Those are things we don't talk about.
ALDEN: I guess the only thing I would add is that, you know, part of the difficulty in any discussion of immigration is that you get very quickly to, well, we need to solve the whole problem, right? We need to solve every single aspect of it.
And part of what I would argue is, let's try some things on a small scale, you know, with respect to agricultural work.
The Canadians, again, have got this kind of small-scale program that they run with Mexico for temporary workers who come up for the summers to do agricultural work. We can do things on a small scale here, try different combinations out, see what works, see what doesn't work. We're sort of stuck in this position that unless we can solve every aspect of the immigration problem, from, you know, enforcement to low skill to high skill, we're not going to do anything.
You know, part of what I was hoping when we organized this symposium is to push for, let's work where we can work and start to make progress. So I completely agree with your point. I think there are multiple levels at which we need to address the problem, but let's try some small initiatives --
WADHWA: Ted is right. There's no way we're going to solve the problem of, quote, "amnesty" in this administration. It's not going to happen the next two or three years. Now, if we don't fix the rest of the problems, our economy will continue to be in a slump. We're going to be exporting people en masse.
ALDEN: -- or even -- or even fix some of the problems.
WINKLER: So what's the one thing you would do, Ted? What's the one thing you think we could do?
ALDEN: Well, I think that, you know, stapling green cards to science engineering immigrants who graduate from, you know, advanced programs, I think that's an easy thing to do that gets you a lot of benefits very quickly. There's a lot of stuff on the entrepreneur -- I mean, you know, we've talked about a bunch of different initiatives. There's not one silver bullet. I think there's a bunch of small-scale things you should do.
Q: Could I make a comment? It's intriguing that all of the discussion assumes federal dominancy, yet in an area where we've had difficulty with illegal immigration and what have you, by default, it has increasingly gone to the states. The assumption of all of the discussion is -- even as you've come up with small projects, is that there cannot be any delegation of federal to state or even to local to permit variations along the context of what you're describing. Why not? Why is the answer always looking down federal what's good for one is good for all?
WADHWA: I think I told the -- (inaudible) --
ALDEN: I don't know. I actually think there should be. I think there's no reason -- I mean, I think it has to be a federal delegation, because this is a federal authority, but I think there's no reason the federal government couldn't allow the states to experiment more with programs in some of these different areas. I don't think there's any inherent -- I mean, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think there's any inherent reason that something like that couldn't be done.
MAYORKAS: Well, you know, immigration law is federal law for a reason. There are foreign policy implications. Numerical caps with respect to particular countries have foreign policy implications, and so the delegation to states of federal immigration policy is not as simple as addressing a local or a regional economic need.
So how many individuals, how many high-skilled workers will we take from China or from India, and whether the visa policy's with respect to those particular companies, which are our greatest producers of high-skilled talent, entrepreneurial talent currently, that has implications, economic, bilateral implications with respect to economic relations, foreign policy implications. And so there's a reason why immigration policy is in fact federal in nature.
WADHWA: But let me -- you know, you've raised a great point, though. What if Detroit wanted to say that, look, all of these million people that are here, anyone who wants to start a company in Detroit can stay here regardless of visa status; that even though you're on an H-1B visa, you can start your company here? They'd probably get tens of thousands of people moving there to start companies.
MAYORKAS: Well, I think -- I think we're going to see that issue unfold, if I'm not mistaken, with respect to the proposed legislation in Utah. Utah has proposed immigration policies as statutes that cover a wide array of immigration issues. Some of them do not take effect immediately. I think some of the guest worker programs, which speak to your point, I think they take effect in 2013.
And so it may -- it might not be ripe for legal action just yet. I don't know, I haven't analyzed that issue, but I would imagine as that day draws near, and if in fact federal action has not been taken legislatively, then I think we're going to see the issue that you raise addressed in the court system, I would anticipate.
WINKLER: A question in the back, all the way in the back. Yeah.
MAYORKAS: Ted, if I may, while that microphone is working its way, Ted mentioned the idea of initiatives and trying something. The difficulty there, and I do think trial and error is a useful tool -- we do it. Some might argue, some of our stakeholders might argue that we err more than we try, but, you know, we learn. We learn, which is why we have, I think, in a model of open government, now we do not promulgate policies unilaterally. We post them for public comment to understand from industries that we serve, from stakeholders, what the consequences might be of the policies that we propose.
We also are doing trial and error with respect to certain process changes to find out what we think might work, will it work, will it not work. Given the legislative process, it is very, very difficult at best to really experiment in the reform of the immigration system aspects that we're speaking of today -- very difficult.
WINKLER: I just would like -- you know, there are some actually very powerful narratives that perhaps are obscured. For example, Hyundai is a very, very successful car manufacturer, especially in the United States. It has created successful manufacturing plants, which in turn have created all kinds of spin-off businesses that have fed off of the original car plant and created burgeoning economies, you know?
And this is not an isolated example, and this is where immigration and homegrown talent converge harmoniously. Just, you know, for people looking for a narrative, that's a very powerful one.
There's a question back here.
QUESTIONER: Vic Johnson with the Association of International Educators -- I just wanted to make a couple of comments.
First of all, on piecemeal immigration reform, I would point out we're doing that now. It's called enforcement. You can pass any enforcement measure you want to propose in the United States Congress, and that's one of the things that keeps driving the immigration debate to the right, toward the closure side.
You can always build the fence higher. You can always build the fence longer. You can always put more boots on the ground on the border. You can always deport more people than the previous administration did, and we're doing all of those things.
The question is, how can we leverage the desire for enforcement to get other pieces of immigration reform done, and that's called comprehensive. I mean, there's a reason you do it comprehensively. So there are various packages that I think many of us would like to see, fine -- but there's --- would like to see tried, but there's always the guy at the end of the line who isn't getting what he needs out of your piecemeal package and who knows nobody's going to help him once everybody else has what they want.
That's why a congressman like Luis Gutierrez have been reluctant to endorse other proposals, because their primary interest is, how do these 12 million people get their situation normalized.
And if he keeps saying to everybody, well, I'll support everything you want and we'll do that last because it's the hardest -- it'll never happen.
So it's -- you know, it's politically hard to put together a package that will pass except for enforcement, and we can keep going on down that road for as long as we want until you can't build the fence any higher.
The second and last point, but kind of related, is on the narrative question. You know, I mean, the way you do the narrative is by doing it. This is what makes it such a frustrating question. There are narratives out there -- we've spun off a few here. There are a lot more, but the anti-immigrant side is dominating the narrative, and the people who see this issue the other way are sort of demobilized at this point. I think one of you made that point.
You know, the president isn't talking much about it, the congressional leadership isn't talking much about it, the immigration groups and ethnic groups, the drivers of this debate in the NGO sector, are quiet. We're saying, we can't introduce legislation because, why should we bother; well, it can't pass.
Well, it can't pass if it's not introduced, and you have these vicious cycles going whereby we make progress impossible because people are afraid to tell our narrative.
I think that where it starts is with the best storyteller we have in the United States system. That's the president of the United States. You start the narrative at that level, and other political leaders pick it up. It gives context for the NGOs to orient their conversations. It gives context for conversations in our committees, and you build this narrative over the course of years. You don't not do it because it's an election year. You just have to start doing it. We have to reclaim this conversation somehow. People have to grab a hold of it and do it in our political sectors, or things will keep heading in the opposite direction, as they are now, because those storytellers are the ones that are controlling the debate.
WINKLER: Well, President Obama did in fact give a speech with a broad and comprehensive outline of immigration reform. You, Vivek, I think, characterized it as a giant press release, if I'm not mistaken.
WADHWA: I mean, we're saying all the right things but not taking any action. You know, I think that the chances of getting this amnesty issue resolved before the next administration are zero. Now, if we wait three or four or five years to fix the issue of unskilled immigrants -- I'm sorry, of skilled immigrations, what's going to happen is that the skilled workers will be long gone. Students are already going back. They'll go back faster.
India and China are already becoming booming tech centers, and those will become Silicon Valley classes within the next five years or so. The unskilled will still be here because those people have no choice. The people who have a choice won't be here. So hence there's an urgency in doing what you can do, so I agree 100 percent with Ted that you have to do what you can do, and do it now; that if we can agree on the DREAM Act, if we can agree on either the Zoe Lofgren legislation or the Lugar legislation, let's get those things through and then worry about the rest of the mess afterwards.
QUESTIONER: Alan Wendt -- one hears the argument that the reason firms can't find enough skilled workers is because they're not paying high enough wages, and that if they raised the wage level, adequate supply from the current population would be forthcoming. I would just like any of you to comment on that notion, whether there's substance behind that argument or not.
ALDEN: I live in Silicon Valley, and wages are shooting through the roof. And the issues is that you can find -- there's also a lot of unemployment in the tech sector. The issue is that the high -- you know, the people with the current skills, the ones who can really be very productive, they're in short supply.
Now, we can try to force companies to hire everyone that's unemployed, but, again, we'll cripple our companies. You've got to realize Silicon Valley is now competing with tech centers all over the world. And the other thing we don't realize is, is that the majority of revenue that American companies get right now is from abroad. I mean, Intel, HP, 72 percent of their revenue is from abroad. IBM, two-thirds of their revenue is from abroad.
So companies are now developing products abroad. They have to understand global markets. Americans don't. They don't know where France is in many cases on the map, right? So the fact is that unless you bring the skilled workers in who enrich our own companies, we're going to lose out globally. We may dominate our own market, but we won't dominate the fastest growth markets in the world.
ALDEN: I want to come in on -- because I -- you know, I work on this. This is a much broader issue than immigration. I work a lot on trade and investment issues, and when you talk to multinational corporations, there has actually been some return of jobs to the United States of traditional manufacturing jobs, partly because costs have been rising in places like China.
But a lot of those jobs are paying wages half of what the old union manufacturing jobs used to pay, and so you could say, well, yeah, if we paid more, we'd attract more people to those jobs, but the reality is those companies won't pay more. If they have to pay more, they're going to locate elsewhere in the world.
We are operating in a global economy in which we face some painful kinds of decisions, which is, you know, is the productivity of our workforce high enough that we can continue to pay wages far higher than all of our competitors? And if the answer is no, there are two responses. One is we might just need to accept the growth of a certain number of jobs that don't pay wages the way the jobs used to, and the second is to upgrade our workforce through education, through training.
I will give the administration a lot of credit on this one. They focused a lot on community colleges. Our workforce has to operate at a level of productivity that makes it profitable for companies to pay higher wages and still operate in the United States. And again, it's a mind-set shift to say, well, if companies just paid more, they'd attract more American workers. Well, the reality is they won't. They'll go and continue to expand overseas, which as Vivek pointed out, they're doing already --
WADHWA: Or they'll be out of business because they're not competitive anymore.
ALDEN: -- or they'll be out of business.
MAYORKAS: I'm not -- I'm not exactly sure it's a one-size-fits-all, so I read in one of your articles, I think, that one of the high tech companies moved one to -- moved one of its facilities to Vancouver for the purpose of drawing talent because of the economic circumstances here in this country and in terms of drawing talent. It might have been your --
ALDEN: It was Microsoft that did it back in 2007.
MAYORKAS: Then it might have been your piece, Ted, in Newsweek.
Well, that applies to Microsoft. So I'd be curious to know what has happened to American Apparel in the facility in Los Angeles that was the subject of a visit by immigration enforcement authorities, and quite a number of undocumented workers, who were paid very well, were displaced. What has happened to that facility?
Have in fact American workers come in and performed the work that undocumented workers previously performed? I remember reading articles not too long ago with respect to Chipotle, and I think it was a subject of an investigation, and Chipotle took great pride in the Latino workforce and had, I think, some issues or alleged issues with respect to the documentation of its workforce.
Were any people released from employment and, if so, were those jobs filled by American workers or documented immigrants? It's interesting to see the data, because at that level, the analysis might be different than the analysis applicable to Silicon Valley.
And that's what's difficult about a narrative. It's the narrative that, look, we have high unemployment, we have jobs being filled by individuals who are in undocumented status. If those individuals do not fill those jobs, there will be room for American workers to gain employment. That is not an inaccessible narrative. When one gets into a contrary narrative, one starts to get into a host of issues and layers.
QUESTIONER: Hector Sanchez from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, representing the interests of Latino workers, including undocumented workers -- it seems like a lot of this conversation, which by the way is very interesting, is missing the central point of the immigration debate, which is undocumented workers. We've been focusing on a number of solutions from the skilled workers' perspective, but I don't think I have here any real answers and short-term answers to what we can realistically do in terms of undocumented workers.
We have seen the enforcement-only policies for the last 10 years, and it's getting out of hand. We have sent he anti-immigrant debate just keep increasing and moving extremely to the right. We're talking about the 14th Amendment. We're talking about excluding immigrants from the census. We're talking about all these things that seem, at some point, unrealistic, but the point is that they're going so much to the extreme right that when they come to the table to propose something that in the old times could seem realistic, they actually can't get it done.
We totally disagree on E-Verify -- that you mentioned you agree. We disagree with anything that increases the vulnerability of workers. And from the economic point of view, if we keep pushing for enforcement-only policies, we're just going to increase the vulnerability of those undocumented workers and keep bringing wages down, and it's an issue that we also need to discuss.
So there was some mention of what we can do. I know by now we know that there is not going to be immigration reform before the elections. What we can do realistically to help increase the respect of labor rights, human rights and civil rights of undocumented workers in the next -- before the elections -- e proposed initially -- and this is an executive order -- an executive order from the president -- to stop the deportation of the DREAM students. It would be interesting to hear in this context what we can do with a focus on undocumented workers before the 2012 elections.
ALDEN: I'd be happy to.
ALDEN: I'd be happy to. I mean, I think, you know -- and Rob raised, in some levels, the same point.
I think the administration's strategy -- and it's a carryover from the second term of the Bush administration and, I must admit, was reflected a lot in the report that I worked on with Jeb Bush and Mack McLarty. I think the hope was that if you could reassure the public that immigration enforcement was being done in a serious way, that it would free up political space for broader immigration reform.
I think that's been the high-level political strategy on this for a long time, because people look back to the '86 experience and the takeaway from that was, well, we had legalization for nearly 3 million people with the promise of immigration enforcement, but the enforcement never happened, so this time we need to show up front that we're serious about enforcement, and then that will open up political space for another legalization.
I think the reality is that's not happened. I think the tougher the enforcement measures have got, we've actually seen political support from the Republican side for comprehensive reform get narrower and narrower. So the question is, how do you respond in that new environment. And it goes beyond the scope of this panel, but I think the administration needs to take a different stand, to say, look, you know, our belief as an administration -- and they're on record on this -- is that a lot of these people should have a path to legal status in the United States, so we're not just as a matter of course going to deport 400,000 people a year.
They've tried to make a priority of people who have criminal histories, and I think that has pretty broad support. But there are still, you know, hundreds of thousands of people being deported every year who have no criminal histories, so I think something like you're talking about, in terms of saying we're just not going to deport DREAM Act students, is a start. It's takes a lot of sense and it's a kind of pushback, and it says we as an administration believe these people deserve status in the United States, so we're not, as a matter of course, going to deport them.
But that would be a big political shift from the emphasis really, for much of the last decade, which has been about trying to reassure the public that government is serious about enforcement. So I don't -- I don't see that change happening, because I think the administration is still very wedded to that strategy. It's just not clear it's working.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Charlie Skuba from Georgetown University. I have a question for Alejandro. I was intrigued actually in the spirit of small things we can do, by your comments about EB-5 visa reform. I believe that it calls for a limit of 10,000 people per year who invest either a million dollars or create 10 jobs in the United States. One question would be, how much of that is being used, and secondly, what kind of reform can you tell us a little bit about how that program is being approved.
MAYORKAS: Sure. The -- it's a --- the investment of a million dollars and the creation of 10 jobs; or in a certain setting with the creation of a regional center, it's the investment of $500,000 and the creation of 10 jobs directly or indirectly.
And the proposals in support of an immigrant investor visa program are extraordinarily complex. They're supported by economic analyses and credit analyses, and as you can imagine, the analysis -- whether jobs are created or not created directly or indirectly -- is a sophisticated one.
And one observation that we had is that we don't have the expertise to really assess the accuracy or adequacy of the submissions that we receive, and so one proposal was to hire a greater cadre of economic experts, of business development experts, credit analysts and the like to assess the proposals that we receive.
The second was business needs sometimes to move fast, and we have to move fast as companions in that effort, and so the proposal speaks of expedited processing or premium processing. The inability of individuals to access us directly with respect to a case causes delays in the processing of these cases, and so we are creating an avenue for the petitioners or their representatives to actually speak with the adjudication team, communicate with the adjudication team in real time so that we can expeditiously or with facility address questions on a real-time basis or address issues on a real-time basis.
And then if in fact there's a question that has not been resolved or an issue that has not been resolved, we're basically going to have, like, a hearing, allow the individual to come in, the petitioner to come in with evidence -- we've never done this before -- and have them appear before an economic expert, an adjudication expert, guided by counsel, and try to resolve issues right then and there so we can maximize the potential of a job-creating visa program. They might not seem very significant, those proposals, but they are very much so.
WINKLER: We have time, I think, for one more question.
QUESTIONER: I would like you to comment on kind of going on the point the gentleman made back here about the states, only I would turn that around a little bit to say, do not the states and in fact the governors have a responsibility to add to this narrative. And I ask that question because this administration put forward -- I think, which was a pretty good program, which is to go after, through the Secure Communities program, criminal aliens, and it goes to building that narrative of having a process in place to identify those people who are here illegally, who have extensive criminal history, to remove those first.
Well, the governors of New York, the governors of Massachusetts, the governors of Indiana have now wanted to opt out of that program because they don't feel as if that was working as well as it should, and they were identifying the wrong individuals, when in fact a record number of deportations -- not raids of a flower march or raids of finding the 24-year-old female with kids here but criminal aliens.
And so I would just argue that to help build this narrative about addressing, I think, what's probably in most people's minds, illegal aliens who are here and the security aspects of it first, and then if those states could then participate in a program such as secure communities in a meaningful way, that would help us build a narrative to then add to the more skilled workers that we want to have here. Any comment?
ALDEN: Yeah, I mean, you know, it would take a whole nother panel to get into all the issues surrounding secure communities, which are many. I think the problem is I don't think it's helped to build a positive narrative. I know that's the intention. I mean, I think the intention is to say that enforcement is going to be targeted; we're going to go after people that we would all agree we don't want in this country.
I don't think it's done that. I think it's instead -- I think it's equated in the public mind immigrants with criminals, when in fact, you know, if you look at the data, criminality in the immigrant population is lower than it is in the general population.
So I think, you know, we could get into all the specifics of the program, whether it works, what are the issues about it. Julia Preston held a wonderful roundtable series recently up at Princeton where we got into this a great deal. It's out there in the YouTube world if anybody wants to watch it. But I think from the perspective of the narrative that we've talked about here, I don't think it's been constructive. I think it's worked against building progress for addressing some of the issues we've talked about today, unfortunately.
WINKLER: I'm afraid our time is up, but Ted, Ale, Vivek, thank you so much.
And thank you all.
MAYORKAS: Thank you all very much.
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