Senator acknowledges worth of H-1B workers but calls visa system a mess

From left, Swadesh Chatterjee, chair of the U.S.-India Friendship Council, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Thom Tillis at the 2019 Spring Conference of the U.S.-India Friendship Council on Capitol Hill on March 27.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R.-N.C.), a close ally of President Trump, while acknowledging the worth of Indian H-1B workers and the skills set they bring to enhancing the U.S. economy and innovation, says regrettably the work visa system is in “a mess,” and the polarization in Congress does not augur well for any solution of the problem in the near future.

Tillis, keynoting the 2019 Spring Conference of the U.S.-India Friendship Council on Capitol Hill on March 27, attended by over 300 Indian American political, community activists and fund-raisers across the country, also said he was well aware of the H-1B, H-4, and all other visas that directly relate to job placement or related to family members involved in work visas being under siege, but said the extreme right and the extreme left in Congress leave no room for compromise, but vowed to keep trying and exhorted the community to remain engaged.

At the outset, the lawmaker said that he’s had a relationship with the Indian American community for decades, going back to his time in the private sector as a partner with Price Waterhouse in the 1990’s and IBM.

“I started up a technology practice and some of my most extraordinary scientists and engineers I had working for me were Indian American and some Indian nationals on H-1B visas and I developed a great appreciation for their culture, their dedication to education and their dedication for excellence. So, I had an opportunity to work with them and see first-hand the good work that they do for the United States and the American economy.”

But in terms of the current debate and histrionics regard immigration in Congress, Tillis said even he found himself wondering “where I am in the spectrum.”

“There are some who believe we should end all immigration and there are others who think we should have wide open borders, and some are somewhere in-between.”

Tillis said, “I actually believe, we need to immigrate more people legally to this country –on an average we immigrate about 1.1 million a year—and I think, unless we find some way to increase our birthrate, we need to find an effective and sustainable way to immigrate a number of people to our country who can contribute to our economy and our society, and we can do it in a number of ways and I will continue to work on that.”

But he pointed out that all of the work visa programs from the H-1B to H-4 and all of the other categories that relate to job placement and family reunification were in such “a mess, and it’s unbelievable, it’s hard to predict, and it’s very difficult to actually be able to rely on a H-1B visa workforce.”

Tillis said consequently it’s become “very difficult for the applicant,” and for the companies that need these workers for economic growth and innovation and said it’s imperative that “we got to fix the full spectrum.”

Besides the work visa malaise, he said that the immigration visa system in general “and everything else in-between” was also a mess, but asserted that “I, for one, have made no apology about my support for citizenship for the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) population.”

Tillis said, this population--that is also estimated to comprise several thousand Indian children brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents—“is a population of extraordinary people who quite frankly perform above the average in terms of their education, their work—some 900 of them enough to fill out a battalion, actually serve in the military.”

However, he was hopeful that “we are going to cool the temperatures that sometimes pop up here on Capitol Hill between out various parties and recognize that there is a middle ground that many of us can get behind, and will make us come up with a sustainable, positive, economically beneficial solution to immigration.”

But he acknowledged, when asked pointedly if there are “any realistic chances” that the Congress will get anything done during this session, “people like me are continuing to move the discussion, but comprehensive (immigration reform) almost never gets done—we very seldom do. But, it has to be large enough to gain the consensus you need in the Senate to get it done quite honestly.”

A solution, Tillis said for the range of problems from “our internal enforcement, immigration adjudication of asylum cases, things that need modernization, resources they need to be upgraded for the 21st century. Then, maybe, we can convince those who prefer to have a stand-alone path to citizenship or other bills that I have supported, but are willing to support a reasonable amount of progress on that front.”

“Then we can get those who are opposed to a path to citizenship and work visa programs to accept it. That’s how you get a compromise done,” he said.

Tillis also emphasized on the importance of the U.S.-India strategic focus saying that India is an indispensable partner because “they are in a part of the world where we need stabilizing influences.”

He also said that India’s “own internal security is important to us. We’ve had a long-standing partnership and a lot of military to military cooperation, and in the Senate Armed Services Committee, we have good reports from our leaders in the military and their peers in the military in India, and we want to build on that.”

“So, we’ll look for additional authority (with regard to India) in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act),” he said.

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