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Op-ed -- Inc. Magazine -- The New Immigration Policy That's Saving American Business

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Op-Ed by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker

Opinion Editorial, Inc. Magazine

More than a decade ago, Ketaki Desai came to the United States from India. She earned her doctorate in biomedical science from Texas A&M before moving to Pittsburgh, where she met her husband Girish, a fellow Indian immigrant.

Ketaki put her high-tech skills to work on a project through Carnegie Melon and won an award for leading a team that developed a sustainable and scalable business model for the non-profit One Laptop Per Child, which works with schools across the country to provide students with laptops.

Ketaki was well on her way to living the American dream. But despite her success, she faced a series of challenges due to our nation’s inflexible visa system. Ketaki and her husband lived apart for many years because they were only able to secure visas from employers located in different states. Fed up with these immigration challenges, Ketaki and her husband eventually decided to leave the United States for a short period of time.​;sz=1x1;ord=742116633

Once they returned to the United States, only Ketaki’s husband was able to secure the type of visa that would allow him to work in the country: an H1-B visa. While Ketaki was able to join him in the States, her “H-4” visa status as the spouse of an H1-B visa holder did not allow her to seek employment of her own.

Our country simply cannot afford to leave talent like Ketaki's on the sidelines of our labor market. The Obama Administration recently finalized a simple change to extend employment eligibility to people like Ketaki--the “H-4” spouses of certain high-skilled workers who are on the path to permanent residency. This commonsense update to the H-4 program is an important follow-up to the President’s executive actions announced last November. 

Until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, these executive actions are modernizing and humanizing our broken immigration system, easing immigrants’ integration into the communities where they live, and allowing individuals to reach their full potential. This benefits families, and our economy.

The new visa changes will prevent two large losses to our economy and to American businesses. The first results when H-1B workers like Ketaki’s husband abandon their years-long efforts to earn permanent residency and take their unique skills, which U.S. companies need, back to their home countries. The second comes from failing to harness the ingenuity and productivity of spouses who are not allowed to work in the United States.

We can no longer allow our failed immigration policies to be a roadblock for immigrants to make a fresh start in America. The fact is, the United States was built by the kinds of immigrants who will benefit from this new policy change. 

Just look at the numbers: Immigrant entrepreneurs start more than one-quarter of new businesses. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies--including Google, Yahoo!, and Home Depot--were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. 

The new visa rule will allow tens of thousands of spouses of H-1B workers to forge their own paths and careers, just like those that came before them. 

Altogether, when fully implemented, President Obama’s executive actions will boost the nation’s GDP by as much as $250 billion over 10 years. They will increase the productivity and wages of all American workers--both Americans born here and those who are planting American roots through their families, their communities, and the businesses, innovations, and jobs they generate.  

Ketaki Desai is still ready to start her business and pursue her American dream. She is not alone. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that approximately 180,000 people will benefit from this change to our visa system in the next year. Our broken immigration system has locked up her skill set and limited American businesses’ access to top talent for far too long. Now is the time to give these high skilled workers an opportunity to advance prosperity, not only for themselves, but for all Americans.