Immigrants are a crucial part of Texas’ workforce that we cannot afford to lose, and we should be working to attract and retain more immigrants to our labor force and communities. However, our broken immigration system, which has not been meaningfully updated in three decades, is holding us back.
Our lawmakers must take a long, hard look at immigration policies that play a large role in workforce development and longevity and reform them to better work for Texans and the entire nation. This is especially important as the U.S. labor market struggles to fill over 11 million open positions.
Currently, in Texas, over 3 million foreign-born workers are supporting the state’s key industries – that’s nearly a quarter of our workforce. A key avenue for these contributions is through employment-based visa programs that help fill gaps in labor occupations like landscaping, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. Streamlining the immigration process for immigrant workers to secure employment-based visas while ensuring those systems include a pathway to permanent status will provide more certainty for the future of our workforce and the American economy as a whole.
For example, the landscaping sector is one of the largest users nationwide of H-2B visas that are used to obtain temporary foreign workers to fulfill seasonal labor needs where there is not a sufficient number of available American workers. These visas allow seasonal businesses to hire short-term workers from other countries to meet the demand for workers in industries such as lodging, landscaping, and others. If the H-2B visa program is not reformed to fix the cap on the number of returning workers by a permanent returning worker exemption, seasonal businesses would be forced to turn away customers, reduce services and, in some cases, lay off U.S. citizen workers.
We must also retain international talent that could make us more competitive while building a stronger economy. Each year, an estimated 100,000 international student graduates of U.S. colleges and universities would like to stay in the U.S. and contribute but are unable to due to their immigration status. Providing these students a pathway to remain in the U.S. could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and bolster the U.S.’s standing in the global race for talent.
To achieve an intuitive and humane immigration system that addresses these workforce needs, we must eliminate bureaucracy and outdated policies that bog the system down. Doing so will also help deter the judicial system from having to play an outsized role in immigration policy where Congress should be acting.
Recently, a ruling was passed down by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals finding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful recently. While current DACA beneficiaries can continue renewing their status, the 5th Circuit sent the case back down to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen who has a strong position against the policy.
In addition to the humanitarian concerns of ending DACA, the state would also suffer economic setbacks after investing in these individuals. DACA recipients contribute to the U.S. economy to the tune of $11.7 billion annually, with those eligible for deportation protections and work authorizations under the policy contributing $963.4 million in local, state and federal taxes each year. Terminating the policy will be costly for industries like nursery and landscaping and others that are key to Texas’ economic success. In fact, we’ll see an average of 800 monthly job losses for building and grounds workers that will likely continue each month for two years.
Lawmakers must consider and pass substantive reforms to the U.S. immigration system that will ensure states like Texas have continued access to workers to fill critical seasonal and long-term jobs. This includes Congress acting in a bipartisan manner to establish a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers that gives them long-term certainty. If implemented properly, a system like this could scale with our country and keep a constant supply of competitive labor in our market, encouraging growth and full employment in a booming and prosperous economy.
These simple legislative solutions are long overdue. It’s time for Texas leaders in the House and Senate to work across the aisle to fix our immigration system today. The fate of our great state and nation is at stake.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Amy Graham, president and CEO of the Texas Nursery and Landscaping Association. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Graham can be reached by email via: [email protected].
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