Anti-immigrant policy is ‘suicide’ – New York Mayor Bloomberg

NEW YORK, September 28, 2011 (AFP) – Visa policies that keep skilled workers from settling in the United States amount to “national suicide,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.

The mayor, a strong supporter of immigration reform, said that current restrictions are hobbling the country in an increasingly fierce, international contest for the best-educated and most skilled workforce.

“As a result, America no longer is the inevitable crossroads for enterprise and innovation. Countries from Asia to South America now beckon with opportunity. So the United States simply has to compete like never before for talent,” he said in a speech.

Bloomberg, who before becoming mayor in 2002 built the hugely successful financial data and news company Bloomberg LP, said US visa rules are “sabotaging our own economy. I’ve called it national suicide—and I think it really is.”

The heart of the problem, according to Bloomberg, is that although a million new permanent residents are admitted each year, only 15 percent of those are given visas to meet US economic needs, while 85 percent qualify for family and personal reasons.

“That’s why I think we should dramatically expand the numbers of green cards available for the best of the best—the highest-skilled workers we need to join the US economy permanently.”

Bloomberg said that temporary work visas helped but were too oversubscribed to be able to cope with the need for skilled labor.

“This leads to critical shortfalls not only in the software industry, but also in fields like engineering, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical research, and aerospace. This is just absurd to deny American companies access to the workers they need,” he said.

The mayor also took aim at the rule capping green cards by country. “Right now, Iceland gets the same quota as India. It just makes no sense,” he said.

“I have nothing against Iceland, but just think about where the next engineers and the entrepreneurs are going to come from. We’ll get some from Iceland, and we’d love to have them come here. But just because of size, you’re much more likely to get an awful lot from India.”

According to Bloomberg, the red tape means that “high-skill employees from China and India can face a wait of up to ten years for a green card.”

With unemployment stuck around nine percent and the US economy barely moving, there is a hardening of opinion against immigration ahead of next year’s presidential election.

But Bloomberg said that productive immigrants were the solution, not a threat, especially in innovative sectors like high-tech.

“These businesses will hire American workers, and immigrants are more than twice as likely as those born in America to start a new company,” he said. “A recent study shows that US job creation in the last 30 years is entirely attributable to startup companies.”