February 14, 2024

America Is Facing a Workforce Crisis. Immigration Is the Answer | Opinion

“Our government's action—or inaction—will determine the trajectory of our economy and America's ability to compete and win on the global stage.”

For years, the immigration conversation in Washington has centered around border security. A strong and secure border is essential, there's no disagreement. But if Congress doesn't act to fix our broken immigration system, we're putting the American economy at a disadvantage for decades to come.

America is facing a workforce crisis. Our economy added an unprecedented 7.5 million jobs over the last two years, but across critical sectors, from agriculture to healthcare to small businesses, there simply aren't enough workers to fill open positions. In fact, last month the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed there are more than 9 million open jobs and just 6 million unemployed workers.

Worker shortages harm businesses by limiting growth and competitiveness—and that's passed along to consumers with inflated costs for goods and services. And these issues aren't going away any time soon. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age and fewer young people enter the workforce, America's working-age population is expected to shrink in the coming years.

Congress has the duty—and the opportunity—to build our future workforce by finally fixing our broken immigration system.

This week, the New Democrat Coalition released our Immigration and Border Security Framework, which we believe are the critical actions necessary to fix our broken immigration system and secure the border.

The New Dem framework emphasizes the need for strong border security against transnational criminal organizations trafficking deadly drugs like illicit fentanyl and exploiting vulnerable migrants. It makes sure the American people have confidence that our nation's immigration laws will be fully enforced. It calls for the quick adjudication of asylum claims, and calls on Congress to appropriate the federal resources necessary to accomplish that goal. And it aims to strengthen relationships with Latin American nations, especially Mexico, to address the root causes of migration and combat drug trafficking.

These are all essential to maintain a secure, orderly border. But in order for the U.S. to stay economically competitive on a global stage, reforming our broken and outdated immigration policies must also be a priority.

One of the most immediate ways to counteract the short- and long-term economic challenges we face and reduce pressures at our southern border is to increase lawful immigration pathways. The New Dem framework calls for replacing the outdated numerical caps for visas with percentage-based caps that allow immigration to grow with the American population and economy. A key component of this effort is expanding and improving our high-skilled immigration to attract and retain the brightest minds from around the world.

Congress must also expand employment based pathways. We can increase the number of green cards to international graduates of U.S. universities, exempt the dependents of employee-based visas from numerical caps, and create a "start-up" visa program that would provide legal permanent status for immigrants seeking to start businesses in the United States.

The historic investments Congress and the Biden Administration have made over the past few years—in semiconductors and advanced manufacturing, clean energy technology and our nation's infrastructure—cannot be realized without addressing workforce shortages.

Our country and our economy will be stronger when the millions of undocumented immigrants who've been living and working in the shadows—and who are already contributing to keeping our national economy strong—can also earn their way to legal status. Economic research has resoundingly concluded that legalization will bring about significant economic growth, boost tax revenues, and help fill critical job vacancies. The New Dem framework also lays out a pathway to temporary legal status, including strict eligibility criteria, a fine, and a criminal background check requirement.

Finally, New Dems are deeply disappointed that Dreamers have been left out of current immigration negotiations, and we will continue to fight for a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans. Twelve years after the program's creation, more than half a million DACA recipients are building their careers and starting families. But inaction in Congress has left DACA recipients in legal limbo, with the fate of the program playing out in the courts. Executives from 80 of the U.S.'s largest companies have warned that if a federal appellate court decision stripping protections from Dreamers were to stand, our workforce shortage will worsen, losing "an estimated 22,000 jobs ... every month for two years."

The United States is and always has been a nation of immigrants, but now we are at an inflection point. Our government's action—or inaction—will determine the trajectory of our economy and America's ability to compete and win on the global stage. Congress can't miss this opportunity to bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

The time to act is now.

Reps. Greg Stanton (AZ-04) and Salud Carbajal (CA-24) are the Chair and Vice Chair of the New Democrat Coalition's Immigration and Border Security Task Force.

By:  NDC Border Security Task Force Chair Greg Stanton and Vice Chair Salud Carbajal
Source: Newsweek