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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

What's wrong with the H-1B visa program? Two perspectives

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KUOW Photo/Andy Hurst
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Tahmina Watson is founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle. Stan Sorscher is a labor representative with the aerospace union SPEEA

Last week President Trump signed an executive order that could bring significant changes to the H-1B visa program, which lets companies temporarily hire a limited number of foreign workers. Created in 1990, the program is popular among local tech companies, especially Microsoft.

Specifically, the Trump administration wants to award visas to the “most-skilled or highest paid workers,” rather than by lottery, as it's run now.

We asked two experts about the changes and learned they agree on at least one thing: the lottery system has to go.

Aerospace labor union representative Stan Sorscher:

  • The original purpose for H-1B was to address a labor shortage. If we still have that shortage, we either misunderstood something or it’s terribly designed.
  • Currently H-1Bs give power to employers. An auction program would give workers more power.
  • Tech companies are too picky in hiring. "Qualified" used to mean able to do the job with some on-the-job training. Now we look for someone who can “hit the ground running.” You should pay a premium for that.

Seattle immigration lawyer Tahmina Watson:

  • H-1B applications are expensive and the lottery makes it difficult for companies to plan long term.
  • If changes bring a lot of restrictions, employers will likely go to other countries where it’s easier.
  • H-1Bs have a multiplier effect. For every H-1B, five positions are created. For example, each applicant needs an accountant and a doctor when they move here.

Produced for the web by Bond Huberman

Year started with KUOW: 2006
Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012