Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…If There’s Room After More PhDs

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“In the 21st century we can no longer afford to have an immigration system where less than 10 percent of the people who come here do so based on the skills that they bring to this country,” said immigration reform leader, Senator Marco Rubio, as he introduced a new high-skilled immigration bill today on the Senate floor. Once a country where “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was the mantra of immigration, the overwhelming presence of technology is changing America’s values to prioritize the promise of innovation over the world’s neediest.

Four influential senators are set to introduce a new high-skilled immigration bill that would create an almost unlimited ceiling on H-1B visas, immediately raising the cap of 65,000 to 115,000, and up to 300,000 if demanded.

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (“I-Squared”) has four main components, according to co-sponsor, Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Boost the H-1B visas, encourage foreign-born science graduates to stay in the country, improve the green-card system, and use fees from high-skilled visas to pay for more science-related education. It would also exclude persons of “extroardinary ability” and outstanding researchers from current green card caps.

The I-Squared act is meant to be folded into a more comprehensive bill set to be introduced sometime soon in the Congress.

While Congress appears to be in awe-inspiring consensus over its support for high-skilled immigrants, reform was stalled last winter over a disputed program to accept immigrants from the poorest nations. Congressional Republicans wanted to reallocate 55,000 visas from underrepresented nations to more high-skilled foreign born STEM graduates of American universities.

“Republicans are only willing to increase legal immigration for immigrants they want by eliminating legal immigration for immigrants they don’t want,” said Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

For now, Rubio doesn’t see a conflict. “I for one have no fear that our country will be overrun by PhDs.” But, even if we allow an unlimited cap on high-skilled immigrants, will we extend the same service to their families (potentially more than doubling the number of actual immigrants accepted).

Additionally, I-Squared promises to use fees from H-1B visas to pay for STEM education programs. Why not social welfare programs or pre-natal care for low-skilled immigrants?

Often, the technology industry values innovation over individual rights (privacy, ownership, etc). When smartphone car service Uber threatened DC Taxis, the web erupted in protest over the idea that the government would protect workers at the cost of technological progress. Moreover, no major tech company has a union, as many employees happily sacrifice job security over the chance to be creative and risk-taking at work.

Ultimately, it has to do with the faith one puts in innovation. Over the long term, will the products that high-skilled immigrants create impact more lives than if we had simply given resources to needy people in the first place?

The tech industry, no surprise, has a long-term optimistic vision of innovation. And, for better or worse, given the might of the tech industry, America’s new immigration philosophy will value the smartest over the neediest.