Immigration reform focused on highly skilled workers, specifically the H1B visa program, is one of the likeliest pieces of legislation that will be embraced by both parties, according to an expert we spoke to. Republicans recently tried to double the number of these visas allotted, and both the gang of eight and President Barack Obama seem to support this type if reform at present.
However, while immigration reform on the whole is characterized as a ” Latino” issue, when it comes to this visa reform the primary beneficiaries are Asian immigrants, according to University of Texas at Austin Government Professor and immigration policy expert Terri Givens.
“Mexicans are only 7% of people with H1B visas, so that’s not really a big number,” Givens told Politic365. “Most of the people who are getting green cards and naturalizing after getting the H1B visa are coming from Asia, specifically China and Korea. It seems like the STEM issue is really more focused on skilled workers coming from Asia, perhaps even Europe, but it’s not going to have as much impact on people coming from Latin America.”
Immigrants from India accounted for 38% of the H1B visa allotments in 2008, for example. Most immigrants who transition from temporary workers to permanent residents in the U.S. come from China, Indian and the Philippines.
Two things are the most curious about this particular slice of immigration reform. For one, given that immigration is largely characterized as a “Latino” issue, this reform doesn’t affect Latinos practically at all. Secondly, Republicans are very enthusiastic about this type of reform, as Givens explained it.
“There’s a lot more enthusiasm [for this reform] on the right. It’s very much desired by the business community, the Chamber of Commerce and others have been pushing for some time — and certainly we’ve seen Silicon Valley companies, tech companies pushing for an increase in the number of H1B visas,” she said.
That’s not even to mention the “stapling green cards to Ph.D. diplomas” comments that have been floating around. Givens noted that the background of this immigration reform and STEM visa conversation is a media hegemony that portrays all undocumented immigrants (unskilled workers) as being from Mexico while all skilled workers are Asian.
“There is a mismatch between peoples’ perceptions and reality,” she said.
Givens said the STEM visa bill is most likely going to exist as a separate piece of legislation that will probably receive bipartisan support while the more comprehensive immigration reform will probably be passed by the Senate in the fall, but not by both houses until 2014.