Commentary: Suspending visas will further upend our economy

Commentary: Suspending visas will further upend our economy

Originally Published in San Antonio Express News

Dennis Nixon - August 6, 2020


In issuing the sweeping order recently to suspend visas for foreign workers, the Trump administration has put our state and country in a vulnerable position and affected our ability to compete in an increasingly challenging global economy. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s new executive order is focused on being tough on immigration to the detriment of our economy.

One of the visa types covered by the executive order is the H-1B visa, which allows U.S. companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations. It is an important tool that allows us to recruit and retain the best talent from around the world. Workers who apply for the H-1B visa program are sponsored by an employer and must undergo stringent application processes that demonstrate the need for workers in their field. Most important, employers hold the burden to prove that hiring a foreign worker won’t displace an American worker.

For Texas, the suspension of H-1B visas will have an immediate economic impact, delivering a blow to critical industries such as health care, finance and IT that are already reeling from the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Pew Research Center issued a report in 2018 that found Texas is one of the top states in the country in its reliance on highly skilled temporary guest workers to fill specialized roles. The same study listed the Dallas-Fort Worth area as having the highest number of H-1B visa awards in the country outside of New York City, followed by Houston, Austin and Bryan-College Station in the top 20 metro areas.

The economic impact of this decision will be immediate. According to a New American Economy study, H-1B visa awards from 2010 to 2013 were estimated to produce more than 700,000 jobs for U.S.-born workers by 2020. Of those 700,000 new jobs created, over 80,000 were expected to be generated in Texas.

Placing a halt on the H-1B visa program will frustrate ongoing efforts to jump-start our economy. Economists project a one-year freeze on the already capped 85,000 H-1B visas awarded annually will result in a reduction of 155,550 jobs. Meanwhile, a study cited by the American Immigration Council highlights that an expansion of H-1B visas would generate approximately 1.3 million jobs and increase GDP by more than $158 billion by 2045.

The administration’s executive order also suspends H-2B visas for seasonal, nonagricultural workers. This will hurt businesses across Texas that rely on thousands of H-2B visa holders to perform housekeeping, landscaping and other jobs that most native-born Americans won’t take.

The executive order comes on top of the ongoing suspension of routine visa services by the State Department due to COVID-19, which has created an unprecedented backlog on visa renewals. Visa renewals will be critical to small businesses along the border and across Texas that rely on foreign visitors and must be addressed to mitigate additional economic adversity.

Restricting immigrants coming to the United States is misguided and shortsighted in these uncertain times. As the economy is reopened and companies revamp their operations, there will be a need for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers.

In a talent-based economy, countries that have the workers they need will thrive while the rest will fall behind. A 2020 study by the National Foundation for American Policy, cited by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, estimated the average annual U.S. labor force growth — a key component of economic growth — will decline 35 percent to 59 percent as a result of Trump administration immigration policies. A declining birth rate and shortage of skilled workers pose a long-term risk to our economy.

More than ever, we must not close the door on immigrants, especially those who can help jump-start our economy. Immigration reform that includes permanent relief for DACA recipients to stay in the United States and become part of our national workforce will be critical to strengthen the economy for the future. Immigration has always been a cornerstone of American innovation and our economic prosperity.

The benefits immigrants add to our economy are profound and will be critical to our recovery. Immigration policy should be approached with common sense, balancing sensible enforcement tools with a streamlined immigration and visa system. We need an immigration and visa system that will serve the best interests of Texas and the nation to continue to grow U.S. businesses and create more jobs and greater prosperity for all Americans.

Dennis E. Nixon is CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo and chairman of the board of International Bancshares Corp.


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