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Our Immigration System: Where is it heading?

The United States has traditionally been viewed as one of the most emigrated-to countries in the world. A nation of immigrants in its own right, the federal government has long been tasked with developing an immigration policy that balances the benefits of foreign human capital with the drawbacks of increased competition for local jobs. Today, the lexicon of the economics of immigration is one of start-ups; federal immigration policy seeks to create incentives for talented and skilled foreigners to contribute to the U.S. economy through the creation and facilitation of startups. That said, there are a number of problems facing the U.S. immigration system that have threatened this overall goal.

Causes for Concern

While the policies implemented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) are relatively sound in their purpose and overall trajectory, there are a number of procedural hurtles facing the immigration system today. Studies have shown dramatic increases in visa denials to employees with specialized knowledge, and in particular, Indian nationals are facing the highest increase in the rate of denials. Even where visa’s are not actually denied, there are less burdensome but nevertheless taxing hurdles for many immigrants with specialized skills; USCIS authorities have increasingly required applicants with special knowledge to provide additional information supporting their petitions in 63% of cases in 2011, as opposed to 17% in 2007. Finally, there is an enormous delay in processing of visa applications; for example, the EB2 visa applications for Indian nationals currently being reviewed date back to 2004, and biannual government shutdowns have only exacerbated the problem.

The Silver Lining

The good news for those concerned for the U.S. brain trust fueled by immigrants with specialized knowledge is clear; the U.S. remains a highly desirable place to live, work, and raise a family. That desirability has much to contribute to the determination that foreign nationals will exhibit in opposing visa denials, providing additional information where requested, and biding time during processing delays at USCIS. As they say, good things are worth waiting for. That said, countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and others are increasingly improving their standard of living while simultaneously making it easier for startups to launch and thrive. While the U.S. continues to remain a desirable “startup nation,” complacency is definitely not an approach we can afford in the competition to attract first-class talent.

The Way Ahead

Immigration policy has been increasingly tailored toward effectively attracting the right talent and the best minds to the U.S. Procedural issues may hamper that effort, but a more effective, streamlined approach to the implementation of immigration laws can mitigate these problems, facilitating the startup nation we want and need.