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Congress and the future of global skilled worker mobility

By Seth Harris

The odds are very long that Congress will enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2014, and the odds may not improve much in 2015. The optimism that surrounded the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill in June 2013 has yielded to House leaders’ charges that president Obama cannot be trusted to enforce immigration laws. Even narrower measures, including a bill providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who serve in the US military, face vigorous opposition as the 2014 mid-term elections approach.

Washington’s immigration law stalemate contrasts starkly with rapidly accelerating global mobility. According to the United Nations’ International Migration Report 2013, the number of international migrants increased 50 per cent between 1990 and 2013 to nearly a quarter of a billion. The country hosting the largest number of international migrants in 1990 and 2013? The US.

The US is also the world’s largest magnet for skilled workers who, with help from prospective employers, navigate a legal maze of visas and potential pathways to permanent legal resident status. The Senate’s comprehensive bill would expand existing visa and green-card categories for skilled (and unskilled) workers and create a few new categories, including a highly anticipated visa for foreign entrepreneurs. House bills and House leaders’ ‘immigration reform principles’ would generally expand existing categories even more…

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