A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Skilled-workers law would be a boon for Kentucky businesses, say Chamber executives

Earlier this year in a speech discussing immigration, former President George W. Bush declared Americans need to “dial down the rhetoric, put politics aside and modernize our immigration laws.” The Kentucky business community agrees.

Kentucky businesses know we need to get past the rhetoric and divisiveness of the issue and fix our broken immigration system into one that drives job creation and economic growth by both better meeting the needs of employers and better utilizing the unique talents of people here and abroad. Such improvements are long overdue and are essential to continued economic growth.

We support reform that will improve our competitiveness, attract and retain the best talent and workers we need, secure our borders, and keep faith with America’s legacy as an open and welcoming society.

The bipartisan Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, already passed by the House and now before the Senate represents a step forward in addressing comprehensive reforms that address security and workforce needs. The bill focuses on reforms to address skilled labor, and would remove the per-country cap for employment-based green cards. Until action is taken, Kentucky businesses will continue to face critical skill gaps.

As things stand, no more than 7 percent of each year’s green cards go to citizens of any one country, so applicants from high-demand countries often spend decades languishing on waiting lists. If you’re an engineer or computer scientist from India, you could face an incredible 150-year delay before being able to accept a job offer from a Kentucky employer. Further, short-term visas aren’t much help.

This year, American employers seeking high-skilled workers filed 201,000 applications for just 85,000 available H-1B visas. Without a path to a green card, many skilled workers give up and move to more welcoming countries.

That’s holding back Kentucky businesses. According to a 2017 survey, 81 percent of Kentucky employers expect strong growth over the next few years – but 84 percent of those businesses struggle to hire skilled workers. To put it simply, our state’s chronic shortage of engineers, scientists, and other technical specialists is hobbling companies that would otherwise be creating jobs for all of us.

Even under our current system, skilled immigrants make vital contributions. While immigrants account for less than four percent of Kentucky’s population, they make up more than a quarter of our physicians and surgeons, and 17 percent of our postsecondary teachers, according to New American Economy.

These immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Kentuckians. Last year our unemployment rate hit 3.5 percent – the lowest since at least 1976. Due to an increasing amount of retirees, there aren’t enough workers coming into the workforce to fill vacancies.

It is also a fact that just 51 percent of Kentucky’s workers have a college education, compared to 60 percent of the national workforce. To build a future-proof, globally competitive workforce we need to not only invest more in higher education, we also need to seed our labor pool with high-skilled international workers.

Many Democrats and Republicans recognize the need for change, including Kentucky’s own Sen. Paul. Last month, in fact, Sen. Paul introduced similar legislation, dubbed the BELIEVE Act, that would do much the same as the FHSIA, and more.

We applaud and share Sen. Paul’s desire to reform the immigration system. Our economy needs comprehensive immigration reform to help employers hire both skilled workers and non-skilled jobs in the healthcare, construction, agriculture and hospitality industries.

We urge Sen. Paul and members of the Senate to seize this opportunity and pass a bipartisan, commonsense immigration law that will move our economy forward.

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce;
Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce;
Kent Oyler, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.; and
Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington.

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  1. James Murphy says:

    The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is detrimental to American workers and the nation in that it interferes with free market capitalism by government manipulation of the supply of labor by adding to the supply of labor for the purpose of reducing the wage paid by employers. That subsidy allows weak market participants to compete with and weaken strong market participants.

    In free market capitalism the supplier of a resource in short supply is supposed to be rewarded with a high price. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act will prevent that from happening. If an enterprise can not pay the free market price for all the resources they need to participate in the market then they have a non viable business. That applies to all needed resources including office space, paper clips and labor. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act allows employer to pay less than the free market price for labor depriving those Americans with the skill set needed the higher wage that would result without it.

    The great advantage of free market capitalism is that it weeds out weak players keeping the market and the nation strong. This act circumvents that weeding out process and subsidizes weak players to the detriment of workers, competitors, and the nation.

    The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act hurts the nation by making us dependent on foreigners for certain skill sets. The act will force wages down to the point that American will have no incentive to acquire those skills. Whereas forcing employers to pay the free market wage will encourage Americans to acquire those skills.

  2. Jim Torbeck says:

    I agree with James. . . This is surely a step worth examining; though, the very first step that should be taken is combating non-participation in the workforce. 3% or so unemployment sounds great, but if you factored in able bodied people that aren’t participating, that number grows to double digits easily. The drug problem continues to be an uphill fight, but there are far too many people ABUSING workers comp, short term disability, long term disability, and simply gaming the welfare state. Especially the subsidy state. For many there is no need to have health insurance, really any insurance, and live in a relative’s home, leading to no need for a job if you really don’t have any expenses and get the necessities for free.
    The current feel right now in regards to a gap in skilled workers, is one of idleness. There are plenty of people around capable of holding high skilled jobs, but the seem to, metaphorically, be idling floating in the air not knowing what to do or choosing not to do anything.
    There are a myriad of other issues tied to this first step that should be taken, but a big one is career paths being chosen by young people. Take a subject sampling of 100 random kids from the area say aged 15-20, and you would find the attractive females are starting a career in Instagram modeling, do that until their in their late 20’s and then attempt to find a real job but have never been taught how to work up until that point. A lot of kids are worshiped on the alter of virtue signaling (the Chamber’s #1 skill set and focus right now) for getting degrees in gender studies, history, arts, etc. while accumulating a house payment in doing so. And they are of the growing number of people idly floating in the air not knowing what to do because their peers, and mentors told them it’s okay to go to school to learn how to be a history major in the art of basket weaving. All of this really comes down to horribly poor parenting and creating a “soft culture”; while our adversaries are growing a generation of tough, hardworking, un-offended, insensitive, non-sheltered young people.
    In summary, get our lazy, coddled, sensitive people to work first, in real world jobs, with real abilities to provide for themselves, Then explore immigration to fill the labor gaps if need be.

  3. AJ Nair says:

    James Murphy’s conception about this bill is completely wrong. Fairness for high skilled immigrant act will actually boost the median wages of high skilled jobs. Here’s why

    1. Removing country cap will allow these backlogged workers to freely explore open market.
    2. This bill does not increase number of green cards issued. It just allocates based on first come first serve instead of country of citizenship this way wages are not impacted.
    3. Since these workers already reside in the USA and work on guest visas where they cant change jobs, get promoted etc., this depress salaries as the employee has no say in his/her career growth.
    4. Most of the backlogged workers are already living in this country for years and sometimes decades and they have established strong roots in the country. Allowing this bill to pass only means that they will invest more into this country rather than remit the same to their home country. More small business and startups will boost local economy creating new jobs. Not to mention many will invest into buying homes v which indirectly has huge effect on economy.

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