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AILA Testimony on Benefits of an Educated and Skilled Workforce

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 99032558 (posted Mar. 25, 1999)"

Testimony of Rebecca Burdette

Committee of the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
On The Benefits to the American Economy of an Educated and Skilled Workforce

March 25, 1999

Mr. Chairman, Representative Jackson-Lee, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Rebecca Burdette. I am an attorney, and a native Texan. For the past 19 years I have practiced exclusively in the area of immigration and nationality law, primarily representing businesses with their immigration cases. From my perspective as a practitioner, and as a representative of businesses that hire foreign workers from time to time, I want to talk to you today about the benefits to our economy of an educated and skilled workforce and American businesses’ need for a usable immigration system. From my personal perspective as a Texan, I also want to speak briefly about the contributions immigrants sponsored by both companies and their families have made to Texas.

As I stated earlier, my practice focuses on the representation of both large and small businesses that wish to sponsor foreign nationals for visas to work in the United States. Here are some examples of the types of companies I and my firm, Quan, Burdette & Perez, represent:

We represent a large international engineering, construction, oil and gas exploration/production and information services company headquartered in Texas. The company has global operations, and employs 57,000 individuals worldwide. The company maintains a full-time training center in the United States for its personnel, and recruits extensively in the United States. However, in order to maintain its global competitiveness, it must recruit, hire and retain the best qualified people, at all levels, from around the world, and it must quickly obtain the services of key technical and professional employees to meet project deadlines. Many U.S. workers in support positions rely on the ability of the company to hire these individuals in a quick time frame. The company’s primary complaint with our current immigration system is not the system itself, but the lengthy delays in the processing of applications and petitions for these key personnel.

We also represent a smaller computer software consulting company, also headquartered in Texas, with a total workforce of 400. This company constantly recruits in the United States but cannot find enough U.S. workers to fill all of its positions, and must rely on foreign workers, primarily from India and China, to fill its needs. The company is not "H-1B dependent" under the recent H-1B law, but the still existing cap on H-1B nonimmigrants, and the lengthy delays in processing visas are hurting this company’s ability to remain competitive. The company is also hurt by the per-country cap on employment-based permanent visas, which limits its ability to sponsor needed individuals for green cards. The company currently is considering opening an office in Canada to expand its business and position its H employees who can no longer work in the United States. If changes in the employment-based immigration system are not enacted, the company might be forced to move other business operations to Canada as well.

Our firm represents a major telecommunications company, formed by the merger of a U.S. company with a Canadian company, which employees over 7,000 people in North America and has 120 sales and service offices throughout the country, with its main office in Texas. This company has sought out immigrants to supplement their American workforce because there are insufficient numbers of employees in the U.S. workforce with knowledge of the state of the art technology and systems. Numerous U.S. workers are required to support this foreign technical staff. Like their American counterparts, many of the immigrants hired for technical jobs do not have bachelor degrees because the areas in which they work are so new they fine-tune their state of the art skills on the job. Because of INS backlogs, this company has experienced processing delays for immigrant petitions and permanent resident status. This company could solve the problem acquiring these key technical workers to service customers and install new systems by transferring many workers and projects to Canada.

Our firm also represents many small businesses in Texas and elsewhere that are having trouble meeting their needs for workers at all skill levels. Businesses in the hotel, restaurant and hospitality industry are having a hard time recruiting and retaining U.S. workers for some lower skilled jobs. For these employers, the current immigration system does not provide much help, because low ceilings for lesser skilled workers, and the backlogs in processing mean that sponsoring immigrant workers is not an option.

As you can see, employers are faced with tough choices. The current employment-based immigration system (both for permanent and temporary visas) is a complicated morass of legislation and regulations. No employer in their right mind would submit themselves to this bureaucratic and expensive process, fraught with pitfalls for the well-meaning, but unsuspecting employer, and long backlogs and delays in processing, if they could find the workers they need in the United States. In fact, I would invite Members of this Committee to speak with their constituent services staffs who I am sure are intimately familiar with the complaints of employers regarding the current system. The problem faced by U.S. employers in looking at fulfilling their need for qualified workers is the fact that the current employment-based immigration system, which is supposed to exist to help employers supplement gaps in the availability of U.S. workers, in fact, does not help them to do so. Congress needs to look at reforms in this area if this body is serious about helping employers meet their needs for people equipped with the full spectrum of skills business today demands.

Mr. Chairman, I know that in the past you have proposed mandating education requirements for the family-sponsored immigration preferences as a way to help employers with their need for a more skilled labor force. However, given that over 40,000 visas went unused last year in the employment-based immigration categories, I would say to you, Mr. Chairman, that the problem is not with the skill level of family immigrants, many of whom have the needed skills, but that the system designed to help employers, the employment-based system, is in need of repair.

The other side of the coin, of course is the family-sponsored immigrant. In addition to our business practice, our firm works on family immigration matters. As you are well aware, family sponsored immigrants, like immigrants sponsored by business, contribute to our U.S. workforce and our economy, although they are admitted on the basis of their kinship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident -- family reunification being the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy. They create businesses, hire U.S. workers, pay taxes, buy goods and services, educate themselves and their children, and contribute to our national well-being. In fact, I can honestly say as a Texan whose great-grandfather was a homesteader (an "immigrant" to Texas, you might say), that Texas was built by immigrants, and continues to flourish today because of the contributions of immigrants. The family-sponsored immigration system has, as its primary goal, the unification of families, which is as it should be. This goal is in keeping with our American tradition of family values. Many immigrants to this country came with little or no education or skills, and they, their children, and their grandchildren, have gone on to contribute great things. Looking to family immigration mainly as a way to supplement our workforce does a disservice to our great tradition of family reunification, and could cause much potential harm, by keeping out individuals who have the potential to greatly contribute to our country.

Mr. Chairman, Members of this Subcommittee, as you look at the issue of the skill needs of the U.S business community, I would suggest that you keep the following in mind: America is a nation of immigrants. Family-based and employment-based immigrants are two sides of the same coin that has served this nation well. Let us remedy the current problems in our employment-based system which prevents businesses full utilization of it, and in so doing better serve the American economy. And at the same time, we must continue to support both immigration streams to ensure that America remains the strong and vibrant country that it is today.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.