March 05, 2013, 3:11 PM — The U.S. Congress needs to fix skilled immigration programs by encouraging talented immigrants to permanently move to the country, a group of witnesses told a congressional subcommittee.
The U.S. is driving away foreign-born entrepreneurs while other countries are recruiting them, said Deepak Kamra, general partner at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. Kamra, a native of India, called on Congress to create a new startup visa program focused on immigrant entrepreneurs, in addition to the existing H-1B program, a temporary visa program bringing foreign workers to established companies.
"America is at high risk for losing immigrant entrepreneurs to foreign countries," he told the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee Tuesday. "Our legal immigration policies have essentially sent a message to these talented people that we do not want them here."
Ten years ago, the U.S. was the "only choice" for immigrant entrepreneurs, he added. "It is now become one of many choices," Kamra said.
Several subcommittee members voiced support for changes in U.S. skilled immigration policies, although there wasn't broad agreement on what needs to be done. While some lawmakers called for changes to skilled immigration apart from the broader immigration reform debate in the U.S., Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, called on the U.S. tech industry to support comprehensive immigration reform.
The tech industry is "part of an immigrant family," he said. "Your industry is in. Could you please help us so that other sectors of our society are in, too?"
But skilled immigration is "not the same problem" as the contentious debate in the U.S. about illegal immigration, said Bruce Morrison, representing the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA.
Morrison urged lawmakers to focus on reforming the green card program, a visa program allowing immigrants to take up permanent residence in the U.S. The U.S. needs more green card visas, and Congress should work to reduce a multiyear backlog of about 500,000 applicants, he said.
Congress should focus on the green card program instead of the H-1B program focused on temporary residence, he said, because green cards can help talented foreign graduates of U.S. colleges stay in the country permanently. Proposals to significantly increase the number of H-1B visas each year would benefit outsourcing companies that use that program, he said.
"We believe that the best way to create and keep jobs in America is to empower American employers to use green cards to hire the skilled foreign [science and tech] graduates they need from our schools," he said.