Over the past several weeks and months, immigration has been a central topic in U.S. politics. But despite a major need for serious overhaul, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) will most likely be tabled from the congressional agenda due to the upcoming mid-term elections this November. This means serious discussion on CIR matters will more than likely not resume until the new Congress is made official in January.
But despite the halt in discourse, there has been no decrease in media attention regarding the need for immigration reform. Recently, commentary in Bloomberg Businessweek authored by Harold Sirkin, a private-sector professional and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has proposed the need to examine the role of immigrant labor in the U.S. economy.
Immigrant Labor in the U.S. Economy
It is no secret that immigrant labor is vital to the success of several industries within the U.S. Two of the most obvious industries are the U.S. agriculture/food and hospitality industries. These industries provide a large number of jobs that require unskilled workers – the majority of these positions are not filled by Americans due to lack of interest/poor compensation.
Another notable industry is the U.S. technology industry. Sirkin states in his recent commentary that there is a need to acknowledge the very apparent demand for skilled labor in the U.S. tech industry. Currently there are not enough computer scientists, engineers or other STEM workers to fit the needs of the constantly growing industry.
H-1B Program is Not Enough
According to Sirkin, the needs of the U.S. tech industry are not being adequately addressed by the current H-1B system that is in place. The H-1B cap’s competitiveness in 2014 was a major issue. But despite major outcry, congress has not moved quickly to advance a useful form of immigration reform. So, what is Mr. Sirkin’s proposal? Permit H-1B spouses to work.
Spouses of H-1B Workers
Sirkin is not advancing a new position in his recent commentary. In fact, the idea of permitting H-4 spouses to work was proposed by the administration last May. One major reason for allowing H-1B spouses to work is the support that it lends the H-1B worker’s family. Increased household income can provide additional economic security for highly valued workers and their families.
H-1B Spouses Benefit U.S. Economy
Sirkin highlights that there is are more compelling reasons for allowing H-1B spouses to obtain work permits past the benefits to the family. Research has shown that oftentimes spouses of H-1B workers possess education and/or training/skills of a similar or equal level to that of the H-1B worker. This means that these individuals could provide another source of skilled labor past the H-1B program and could benefit the U.S. economy by strengthening industries that rely on skilled labor, such as the U.S. technology industry.
The Future for H-1B Spouses
The debate over permitting H-1B spouses to work legally in the U.S. has sparked tremendous amounts of discussion in both the media and in congress. Sirkin believes that although the full benefits of comprehensive immigration reform are not clear, smaller changes such as permitting H-1B spouses, who hold H-4 visas would be a “win-win” for both families and the U.S.