Anderson testified before the House subcommittee on immigration and citizenship. His opening remarks came during a hearing held by a group of US lawmakers on, titled ‘Oh, Canada! How outdated US immigration policies push top talent to other countries.’ The objective was to understand how Canada’s immigration laws and procedures are helping it attract top talent in hopes that these learnings could perhaps spur necessary immigration reforms in the US.
Anderson provided details of the steady decline in the number of Indian graduate students coming to the US for further studies and pointed out the rising statistics of Indian students bound to Canada. These statistics relate prior to the pandemic.
For instance, the total number of Indian students in the fields of computer science and engineering reduced from 86,900 during the academic year 2016-17 to 64,950 for the academic year 2018-19. This decline of 25 per cent is stark, as 75% of full-time graduate students in computer science are from overseas. Additionally, during the academic year 2016-17, two thirds of the international students in this specific field were from India, explained Anderson.
Anderson pointed out that the number of Indian students headed to Canada was on the rise. Citing Canadian education agency figures, the executive director said that there was an increase from 76,075 in 2016 to 172,625 in 2018 – a growth of 127 per cent.
The Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has always emphasised that a significant percentage of international students, including those from India, stay on to become permanent residents, which is akin to attaining a US green card. The number of Indians admitted as permanent residents in the country rose by 116 per cent from 39,705 in 2016 to 85,585 in 2019.
“In sum, Canada’s immigration policies are much better than America’s for facilitating the entry of talented individuals. Congress established America’s policies in 1990, before smartphones, e-commerce, social media, cloud computing and the daily use of the internet exploded the demand for high-skilled technical labour. The world has changed since 1990. US immigration policy has not,” Anderson emphasised.
Under Canada’s Global Skills Strategy program, many temporary visa applications for high-skilled foreign professionals are approved within two weeks. There is also a non-numerical limit on high-skilled temporary visas. The Canadian government has made it increasingly easy for employers to attract and retain talent.
In stark contrast, the US’ H-1B program has numerical restrictions on high-skilled temporary visas which block the vast majority of foreign-born applicants from working in the country in a given year.
In March 2021, sponsoring US employers filed 308,613 H-1B registrations for cap selection for fiscal ended September 30, 2022. The annual quota is 85,000, which includes a Masters’ cap of 20,000 for individuals with an advanced degree from a US university. “This means over 72 per cent of H-1B registrations for high-skilled foreign nationals were rejected even before an adjudicator evaluated the application,” stated Anderson.
In Canada, there is no per-country limit and foreign nationals can often transition to permanent residence after working for a year on a work visa. The country has made it easy for international students to gain a work visa post graduation. The country maintains a program for graduating international students more generous than Optional Practical Training in the US.
After graduating, international students in Canada become eligible for a three-year post-graduation work permit. After a minimum of one year of skilled employment in Canada, international students receive a significant benefit through the points system to facilitate permanent residence. In some provinces, there are programs (with numerical limits) that allow foreign nationals with a Master’s or PhD from a Canadian university to gain permanent residence, including, in many cases, without a job offer.
Meanwhile, in the US, the annual limit of 140,000 employment-based green cards, which includes dependent spouses and children of the principal immigrant, is too low. That annual limit also features a per-country limit of 7 per cent for each country, which burdens mainly potential employment-based immigrants from India but also affects people born in China and the Philippines.
In the employment-based second preference (EB-2) under current law, and owing to a limited number of green card issuances, the current backlog of 568,414 Indian nationals would require an estimated 195 years to disappear, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). If no remedial steps are taken, the total backlog for all three employment-based categories for Indians would increase from an estimated current figure of 915,497 to an estimated 2,195,795 individuals by FY 2030.
“We should let that number sink in: Within a decade, more than two million people will be waiting in line for years or even decades for employment-based green cards,” Anderson said.
He explained that the points system mostly works in Canada because it operates under a broad mandate that would likely be considered an unconstitutional delegation of authority from Congress to the executive branch in the US. That broad mandate in Canada allows the government flexibility and the ability to respond to employer needs.
However, that part of the system is likely impossible to implement in the US due to the country’s different governmental structures. It can also take years for a US federal agency to publish and implement a regulation.
Instead of a points-based system, Anderson suggested that an increase in the annual limit for H-1B temporary visas and employment-based green cards or exemption of specific categories of people from the annual limits would provide the needed flexibility.
He pointed to the recommendations given by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), which includes doubling the annual number of employment-based green cards, eliminating the per-country limit and creating a startup visa for immigrant entrepreneurs since many innovations are realised through entrepreneurship.
The NSCAI had also advocated expanding the usefulness of H-1B visas and creating a new “emerging and disruptive technology” visa. Furthermore, it had advocated that allowing for dual intent for F-1 students would facilitate the entry of international students. It also added that international doctorate students in STEM fields should be exempt from the annual limits for green cards.
Anderson also pointed to the proposals in the Citizenship Act, which would help improve the immigration system and help clear the green-card backlogs. For the critics, he had a parting shot — “It is the immigrants whose efforts led to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines!”