SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley’s constant stream of new apps and services depends on hundreds of thousands of foreign-born engineers to help create them. So the technology industry has been pushing for changes to the nation’s immigration policy for more than a decade to allow more skilled workers into the country.
President Obama’s executive action on immigration last week falls well short of what both immigrants and industry leaders were seeking. The most vexing issues they face, like speeding up the process for obtaining permanent residency and getting more visas for high-skilled technology work, would require an act of Congress.
The White House is projecting that most of the economic benefits from its immigration reforms will come from highly-skilled workers, but dissatisfied tech groups say the initiative does not do enough to help them recruit foreign programmers and engineers.
President Barack Obama used his executive powers last week to remove the deportation threat hanging over nearly 5m unauthorized immigrants, and took smaller steps to address longstanding complaints from Silicon Valley about US visa backlogs.
Technology leaders in Silicon Valley and the Southland collectively reacted to President Obama’s national address with a shrug and a slight smile. But nobody’s jumping for joy.
That’s because presidential orders on immigration cannot address the problems that trouble technology companies most: tight limits on temporary visas for high-skilled workers, and a cumbersome system for achieving “green card” permanent resident status they say causes too many talented workers to give up and go back home. Congressional action is required to fix those.
- Make it easier for spouses of applicants to get permission to work in the U.S.
- Ease travel restrictions for applicants’ families.
The president also will expand as-yet undefined “immigration options” for foreign entrepreneurs who create jobs and meet an income threshold, and will expand a program that temporarily allows noncitizen children of illegal immigrants with clean criminal records to pursue their studies without fear of deportation.