Much will be discussed on Capitol Hill this week as immigration negotiations intensify, but one thing is clear about any deal: It won’t do much for business.
What many in the business world want are changes that would make it easier for companies to fill labor shortages with immigrants, such as increasing the number of H-1B visas. But unlike the previous negotiations, this time that issue does not even appear on the table.
“It’s become a big problem, and you’ve already slowed down or stopped building semiconductors,” says Greg Wright, an economics professor at the University of California, Merced, who focuses on the effects of globalization and immigration on the labor market.
“The only solution in the short to medium term is immigration,” he added, noting that it will take years for American workers to fill many of these specialized jobs before training efforts bear significant fruit.
But the political reality is that these companies can expect little help from Washington anytime soon. Instead, lawmakers are focusing on border security and closely related issues, such as asylum policy, following an increase in border crossings under President Biden.
“This bill is aimed at getting us to zero illegal crossings per day,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said recently on Fox News while trying to drum up support for the Senate’s still-unreleased bipartisan deal.
Of course, the immigration talks may offer little assurance to anyone, at least this year.
Senate negotiators — Lankford, as well as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — hope to release the text of a bilateral security agreement in the coming days. But House Speaker Mike Johnson declared the package dead on arrival before seeing it.
House Republicans are now focusing their energies on the impeachment inquiry against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the issue.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, former President Donald Trump appears intent on sinking any deal — business provisions or not — and has had considerable success pressuring House Republicans to follow his lead.
A different tenor in 2013
In previous years, the picture was very different.
Take 2013, a pivotal year in the immigration debate. As it is now, that year featured a bipartisan group of senators attempting to pass immigration reform under Democratic President Barack Obama.
The deal they announced in January 2013 was based on combining border security ideas with other reforms, notably changes to the visa system to increase the number of H-1B visas available to US companies. It also granted citizenship to some immigrants who crossed the border illegally.
One of the key figures of that era was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). He helped negotiate the bill and outlined on his website how the deal would be understood: “When our economy needs foreign workers to fill labor shortages, our modernized system will ensure that future labor flows are manageable, traceable, fair and appropriate for American workers.” will do. with the needs of our economy.”
That bill passed the Senate 68-32, but then never went into law when the GOP-controlled House refused to even bring it up for a vote.
In a clear sign of changing politics, Senator Rubio is now on the sidelines of the current negotiations and in opposition. In a recent op-ed, he called the current talks “unrealistic” and instead called on Biden to simply restore Trump-era tough border security policies.
‘Shouts into the Void’
According to a recent report by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the chip workforce is expected to grow by more than 100,000 jobs in the coming years, but about 67,000 of those jobs remain unfilled given current U.S. degree completion rates.
Few expect the current H-1B program — currently limited to 65,000 workers nationwide — to be enough to address the shortfall. Companies like Intel ( INTC ) will struggle with the problem for years to come, citing the SIA report as “disturbing.”
Arizona is also set to become a hotbed for the growing U.S. chip sector, but has already seen labor shortages affect their plans. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is currently operating a flagship manufacturing plant north of Phoenix, but recently announced that the plant’s full-scale startup has been delayed from 2024 to 2025 due to labor shortages.
Growth in the semiconductor space is being spurred by Washington and the $231 billion in new investments contained in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2023. The Wall Street Journal reports that as the law continues to roll out, the Biden administration is set to announce a new wave of headline grants for companies like Intel and TSMC in the coming weeks.
But immigration changes for these companies are unlikely to come from Washington anytime soon. Professor Wright notes that Biden may have started his term with big ambitions for a comprehensive immigration approach, but the surge in migrants has forced a narrower focus.
“They just have to accept whatever it takes to get control of the border,” he says of the White House’s approach as they face intense pressure on the issue in an election year.
Lost, Wright added, is that he and others have long argued that immigrants are a net positive for the economy.
Presently making this claim is akin to “shouting into the void”.
Ben Werschkul is the Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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