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Report — spurred by Utah’s Orrin Hatch — says U.S. firms need the government to double the number of highly skilled foreign workers they are allowed to hire

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Chamber will award Senator Orrin G. Hatch as the 39th Giant in Our City, in honor of his exceptional and distinguished service and extraordinary professional achievement, Saturday, June 9, 2018 at Grand America Hotel.

As immigration officials started accepting applications Monday for the 85,000 H-1B visas available to foreign workers this year, a new report — led in part by former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — says U.S. companies really need more than twice that many.

“Last year, employers filed 190,098 petitions—of which 95,855 were filed on behalf of foreign-born professionals who had earned a graduate degree from a U.S. university— but only 85,000 of these petitions could be approved,” Hatch wrote in the forward to the study. “Thousands of talented professionals who employers have selected for hire and who are poised to make contributions to our economy are being turned away, including the very people who already know our language and understand our culture and who have conducted research here as graduate students.”

Hatch wrote that in a report entitled “Barriers to recruiting and retaining global talent in the U.S.,” issued jointly by FWD.us, a think tank created by the tech industry, and the new Orrin G. Hatch Foundation.

It calls for changes in the immigration system that Hatch unsuccessfully sought for years, including raising the cap on H-1B visas and creating a new type of green card for highly skilled workers that would not require them to obtain a temporary work visa first.

“We haven’t updated our high-skilled immigration system in over 25 years, and we’re clearly seeing and feeling the consequences,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte.

The report said high-tech industries are having difficulty filling open positions amid low unemployment rates, and 75 percent of companies say candidates do not have the necessary science, technology, engineering and math skills.

“Filling unfilled jobs like these is precisely the role immigration should play, but this is proving increasingly more difficult as employers use a 20th-century immigration system to meet the needs of a 21st-century economy,” the report says.

It says that is driving foreign skilled workers to other countries, and even makes it difficult to retain many foreign workers now here.

“Trying to sponsor an employee for a green card today often takes years, sometimes longer than a decade, before the employee can be cleared to work in the United States,” the report said. “To hire these skilled workers, employers have no choice but to sponsor them for temporary work permits so that they can bring them into the country and then petition for their green card.”

But keeping them here on extended temporary status restricts their ability to change jobs, earn promotions, travel back home or start a company — so the report says many “are increasingly packing up and moving to countries with more generous immigration policies, particularly countries that offer fast-track startup visa programs.”

It adds, “While the United States has the opportunity to remain the top destination for the best and brightest, our current immigration infrastructure must be able to retain these talented individuals or capitalize on their contributions.”

It says policies now do not do that. “The overburdened immigration system is making it difficult for U.S. employers to compete in increasingly global markets.”

Hatch said, “Unless we fix our broken immigration system, our workforce — and our economy — will fall behind.”

As it now stands, there’s little momentum in Congress to increase the number of available H-1B visas.

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