"Virtual march" on Washington lobbies for immigration reform

Mar 27, 2013

The technology industry is using social media to create a "virtual march" on Washington. The March for Innovation, launched by the Partnership for a new Economy, is lobbying for immigration reform, including putting pressure on Congress to provide more visas for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

But, the initiative has its skeptics.

Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the RIT, says there is a window of opportunity for immigration reform currently, and skilled immigration is a big part of that.

But Hira isn’t convinced the March for Innovation, is sending the right message, he says the U.S. definitely wants to attract the best and brightest, but we also need to regulate visas.

“I think they’re offering kind of a false choice, in the sense that they’re saying that the only way we can keep the best and brightest from around the world here is by also increasing the number of guest workers, temporary work visas, which actually place the foreign workers in a bad position.”

Hira says guest workers can be paid poorly and end up effectively indentured, leading to abuses of the visa system.

He says the March for Innovation promotes expanding the number of quest worker visas by thousands, and that puts American workers, as well as guest workers, in a tough position.

“I think we’re really a nation of immigrants, not a nation of quest workers,” Hira says.

Co-chairman of the March for Innovation, Somesh Dash, agrees that visas need to be closely regulated, but says the number of visas granted needs to be expanded greatly.

The March for Innovation is focused specifically on expanding the number of H1B visas available. The current cap is 65,000 per year.

“There needs to be more H1B visas, because 65,000 doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the need in the labor market. There absolutely should be controls around that to ensure there isn’t abuse,” Dash says.

“Any bill that is mandated through the house and the senate needs to include provisions to help the high-tech skilled worker eco-system in order to continue to fund innovation and growth for the years to come.”

Dash says the March for Innovation, set for later this spring, utilizes social media as another avenue for people to express their support for immigration reform.

He says immigrants spur entrepreneurship in the US and also contribute to local communities as well as the economy and job market.

The initiative has some high profile instigators including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the founders of the web sites Craigslist and tumblr.

Hira says he agrees with the need for the U.S. to focus on bringing more highly-skilled workers to the U.S., but he would like to see them on a green card system, and not a guest worker visa.