Global Employer Summit: Realizing the Untapped Potential of Global Talent in NEO

Expert Strategies + Global Talent = A World-Class Cleveland

May 31, 2017

US Immigration Policy Today

Jon Baselice, Director of US Immigration Policy, US Chamber of Commerce

Immigration reform will be tough, “but it can be done,” said Jon Baselice, Director of US Immigration Policy for the US Chamber of Commerce, in his opening remarks to Global Cleveland’s “Global Employer Summit: Realizing the Untapped Potential of Global Talent in NEO.” “If we are to move forward with immigration reform, whether it is comprehensive or piecemeal, it cannot be understated that grassroots involvement is key, like the work Global Cleveland is doing putting things together, it will always be needed.”

Speaking candidly, Baselice said there is a rift in the current White House between those who want less immigration no matter what the skill level, and those who want reasonable immigration reform. He said the current Administration is on a learning curve and is beginning to understand that the rhetoric of the campaign trail needs to give way to the realities of governance.

The Chamber, he said, has been working on travel issues related to the Administration’s proposed travel ban and the impact of the language on businesses. “If there is the perception among people who don’t live here that they aren’t welcome here, then they’ll go elsewhere,” he said. Using a patient traveling to Cleveland for medical care as an example, he continued, “So not only will we lose the cost of the airfare, the meals, and all the incidentals of travel, but the Cleveland Clinic will lose the money it would have made…that’s an opportunity cost we would lose.”

He said the Chamber is working with other groups to make certain they meet the very short comment periods the current Administration is using for responding to notices in the Federal Register. “We all try to point out,” he said, “that they [the Administration] need to say, ‘we encourage legitimate travel to the US.’” While it hasn’t borne out yet, a study funded by the US Travel Association showed that year-over-year, there have been massive drop-offs in not only searches, but bookings for tourism in the US. When these hit, Baselice said, the loss of tourism dollars will ripple throughout the economy.

The Chamber is also working with Senator Orin Hatch on issues related to high-skill workers and H-1B visa challenges and the Immigration Innovation legislation that is stalled in Congress. Baselice said that “given the current President’s desire to protect American workers,” the new legislation will have a cap on the number of H-1B visas and will address issues of what foreign workers must be paid, and that US businesses will need to use or lose their H-1B visas. While he said Sen. Hatch’s legislation will not sail through, “it will at least provide something for others to react to and that in itself will be helpful to the overall process.”

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer period, Baselice was asked about the intention behind the proposed travel ban and he said there are three groups who do want to curtail the number of people coming to this country, but he noted that the second travel ban seemed to soften on several areas and tried to provide legal rationale, so he had seen some movement there.

As to whether another so-called “Gang of 8” (referring to the bi-partisan group of Senators who wrote the doomed 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill) could step forward, Baselice said there are senators who have shown an interest in doing something about immigration, because there is a real need for workers to do such jobs as citrus picking, hotel housekeeping, and landscaping, to name a few. From his time in the Senate (as an aide to Senator Marco Rubio), he does believe there is a will…it’s just finding the right way that is proving problematic at the moment. “However, in the House,” he said, “it’s a whole different equation.”

The Chamber has also been working on H-2B visas for lesser skilled workers and has gotten an increase, but he noted that discretion is left to the Department to issue them, if at all.

Baselice encouraged the group to keep an active hand in crafting legislative proposals, noting that economic impact is always going to be front and center. “The real question is whether the analysis is legitimate? Is there economic analysis to support what you’re doing?” He pointed to the tech sector, and Silicon Valley in particular. “Silicon Valley is what it is because of immigrants,” he said, adding, “To Dany Bahar’s point, it’s definitely easier to move minds than knowledge.” Companies choose to bring people in because they like to see a face, they want to protect intellectual property and know who’s using it. And there’s the convenience, he said. “It’s convenient when people are there. If there’s a problem, it can be fixed. That trend will continue.” He emphasized, however, that “if rules are in place to make it more complicated to get work done, companies will move offshore.”

He noted that the Chamber wants the H-1B visas to go to the most skilled, highest paid workers, but the difficulties of setting a pay cap are problematic. “If you set a pay cap at say $120K, that will help places like New York and Silicon Valley, but everywhere else will get the short end…there is a political deal to be made, but how it will happen, I don’t know.”

Circling back to the travel ban, Baselice said that universities and tourist sites were “being pummeled” by the travel ban and that the Chamber was working very closely with the US Travel Association, the airlines, hotels, restaurants, and all the others who serve tourists to find a solution. “Once you start to see a decrease in bookings, lost economic activity in districts represented by Republicans, when colleges start to lose, particularly in smaller cities, you’ll see change in their behavior,” Baselice predicted. Between now and then, he said, the Chamber would continue advocating on businesses’ behalf.

–Reporting by Janice T. Radak for Global Cleveland