A graduate with a master's degree in product design engineering from a top UK university, Felicity (not her real name) is working as a paid intern on a temporary visa in San Jose. She has job offers from two high-tech firms in Silicon Valley, and has chosen the one that is most likely to get her an H-1B visa. That visa would allow her to stay and eventually apply for permanent residency.
Each year the Center for Immigration Services accepts applications for 85,000 H-1B visas. That is not enough.
Visa applications can be filed on April 1 of each year. In 2013, the cap was reached during the first week in April. During the early 2000s, Congress temporarily raised the quota to 195,000, a number that did not exceed demand, but the quota reverted to 65,000 in 2004.
Felicity hopes that her potential employer will file for her H-1B visa on April 1, so she has the greatest chance of getting the visa. Otherwise, her employer may send her to work abroad.
Felicity loves San Francisco for its opportunities and blue skies, so different from London’s gray. She has met many Americans who want to work in London, and wonders why she could not trade her right to work in Britain with their right to work in America.
Felicity suggested that Britain and the United States swap a certain number of visas every year — say, 1,000 — so total employment in the two countries would be the same.
This might be effective on a small scale, but even better would be to find more broad-based solutions.
Economists Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, in "Beside the Golden Door," propose that the government auction off visas to employers, simplifying immigration and creating revenue for the Treasury.
They suggest initial minimum prices of $10,000 for a high-skill visa, $6,000 for a low-skill visa, and $2,000 for a seasonal visa. Visas would become tradeable, with prices fluctuating with demand.
Auctioned visas would be good for five years, and could be sold to other employers if original purchasers no longer needed them.
This would enable Felicity’s employer to purchase a visa for her, rather than hoping that she wins one in April. If she were no longer needed, she would have to find another employer who had a visa and needed a product design engineer.
University of Chicago economics professor Gary Becker has suggested auctioning off green cards to individual immigrants, starting at $50,000, raising about $50 billion annually.
Felicity cannot afford $50,000, but her employer might be able to buy the visa for her, or lend her the money so that she could buy one herself.
Do we really need Felicity in America? Don’t we have enough product design engineers?
U.S. multinationals are creating more jobs offshore than in America, according to the Commerce Department. More H-1B visas would mean that these companies could shift more operations back home, hiring more native-born Americans as well as Felicity.
Everyone who wants to come and work adds to our economy. Last summer the Congressional Budget Office estimated that immigrants were a net winner for the economy, because they pay more in taxes than they take in services.
The House may not follow the Senate's lead in passing comprehensive immigration reform. But it could pass a series of smaller bills that could be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama. That would help people such as Felicity and should be a priority for 2014.Washington Examiner columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (firstname.lastname@example.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.