The national and local immigration reform debate has primarily focused on border security and the possibility of legalization for millions of undocumented individuals currently living in the U.S. However, the debate has failed to emphasize the importance of legal immigration reforms that would strengthen our economy and U.S. competitiveness in international markets.
As the president of Sabre Holdings and a board member of Brand USA, I wholeheartedly support immigration reform, such as the bill passed by the U.S. Senate in late June. This bill would expand access for American companies to the world’s best and brightest engineers and scientists, incentivize more American students to pursue careers in science and technology, and attract millions of new tourists and business travelers to Texas and our country.
On the employment side, companies like Sabre need thousands of talented scientists, mathematicians, engineers and computer programmers to deliver cutting-edge technology to our airline and hotel partners, corporate travel customers and average citizens who use websites like Travelocity and Expedia.
Sabre is continuously looking to fill these positions with American employees first. Unfortunately, our education system does not properly prepare our students for such positions. For instance, more than half of the manufacturers in the U.S. said the public education system does not sufficiently prepare students with the math and science skills needed to succeed in the workplace, according to an April 2012 report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. Those schools that do have an adequate program do not produce enough engineers and similar scientists to meet our immediate needs.
The current federal immigration law imposes an annual national limit of 65,000 visas for highly skilled individuals; in 2013, the application pool was drained in less than a week. In many cases, successful foreign students are educated at U.S. universities but then denied the ability to stay, live and work in the U.S. In other words, we are educating scientists who are then forced to leave our country and work for foreign companies that compete directly with us. Imagine the Dallas Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki or the Texas Rangers without Yu Darvish because the NBA or MLB had a quota on foreign talent. That’s the exact dynamic facing U.S. companies like Sabre, Microsoft and Facebook.
However, the Senate recognized the need to reform our inadequate high-skilled immigration quotas. Its bill would increase the number of highly-skilled foreign workers U.S. technology companies can recruit, while ensuring that their wage levels always make it easier and less expensive to hire equally qualified Americans. It would exempt the immigration cap for those workers with advanced technical degrees and also apply increased fees on visas and green cards to develop a new education funding program to educate the next generation of American students and consumers in the fields of science, technology, math and engineering.
The Senate bill would also reform our visa and immigration policies to attract more business travelers, as well as tourists, seeking to evaluate American products, negotiate deals, attend U.S. trade shows and conventions and visit our nation’s many attractions. The growth in international visitors to the U.S. — a record 67 million in 2012 — has been one of the brightest areas of the economic recovery since 2008. Immigration reform could help us capture an even greater share of the market.
Unfortunately, the Senate currently stands alone. Although there are talks in the House about drafting a bill which may mirror the Senate’s, there are currently not enough members in the House who support such legislation. House members need to delve deeper into the immigration debate and realize how essential it is to our country and economy to support legal immigration reform.
I am appealing to the House to make a change. Supporting the Senate bill will allow American companies to compete more effectively in global markets. It will help strengthen the U.S. economy, which in turn will provide more jobs for Texans and Americans and offer our children the education they rightfully deserve.
Klein is president of Sabre Holdings, the Southlake-based travel technology company, and a board member of Brand USA, a public-private partnership with the mission of promoting international travel to the U.S.