Major tech companies are urging the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider “aging out” immigration policies that prevent children of documented immigrants to remain in the U.S. beyond the age of 21.
In a letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 17 signatories including Google (GOOG), IBM (IBM), and Amazon (AMZN) called on the administration to extend the legal status of family members of H-1B Visa workers. The letter stated that the current policy “harms families and prevents our companies from attracting and retaining critical talent in the U.S.”
More than 200,000 children are currently in the U.S. legally, protected under their parents’ visa, but they “age out” of that legal status once they turn 21 years old and must apply for a green card individually to remain in the U.S.
“We urge the administration to establish more robust aging out policies so that the children of long-term visa holders can continue as beneficiaries of their parents’ pending green card applications even after they turn 21,” the letter reads. “Policymakers should take steps to preserve the ability of children to remain in the U.S. and work while waiting in the green card backlog.”
Concerns have grown over time amid a prolonged backlog to process green cards, brought on by COVID-related staffing shortages and Trump-era immigration policies. While the State Department set aside 262,000 employment-based green cards last year, just over 25 percent went unused. Firms that rely on foreign workers, worry a substantial number of the 280,000 green cards available this year will go to waste because of delays.
“These young people face the difficult choice between leaving the country that has become their home, or attempting to re-enter the labyrinthine, high-stakes immigration system for a different visa where options are extremely limited,” according to the signatories. “Their parents must either become separated from their children or abandon their careers and any plans to seek permanent residence in the U.S.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with tech firms say that uncertainty is directly challenging companies’ ability to retain top talent. In an interview with Yahoo Finance last week, Google’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy Karan Bhatia said the lack of clarity around the timing of visa processing, has “become a challenge for American companies to be confident in what that labor force and labor flow is going to look like.”
The tight labor market has further complicated the outlook for companies as the number of job openings far outpace the number of workers looking for jobs. Google’s Senior VP of Global Affairs said just 13 percent of applications filed by the company since October 2020 had been processed as of the end of last year.
In a recent note, Goldman Sachs cited reduced immigration as playing a role in the country’s growing labor force participation gap. While foreign-born workers accounted for nearly 60% of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2010 to 2018, growth in those same workers slowed to roughly 100,000 between 2019 and 2021, according to Goldman. That shrank the labor force by 1.6 million, the research noted.
“H-1B visa holders and other foreign national workers on nonimmigrant visas are critical drivers of economic growth in the U.S. economy,” the letter stated. “These individuals help maintain our competitive edge on the world stage, but the U.S. immigration system fails to adequately provide for them and their families.”
Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita