With the presidential election dominating the news, few Americans have realized that at this time the United States Senate is considering a massive reform of our nation’s immigration system. And, Washington-style, the reality is that it could pass without a single vote in the Senate. You read it correctly: A major change to our immigration system is being considered under “unanimous consent” in the federal Senate, which means this bill could pass without a vote.
The legislation has not passed because I am the ONLY senator stopping it. I recently opposed a bill that I believe could have long-term negative impacts on our immigration system and Florida’s economic future. Only in Washington could politicians try to pass legislation stealthily without American citizens understanding the impact of it.
I am proud to represent Florida, a state that celebrates diversity. We are a state that welcomes immigrants from around the world, and we have been successful thanks to the many contributions of our diverse community. As Governor and now as Senator, it is my job to protect the diversity that we hold dear.
Most Americans agree that any immigration reform must also address our border security. Likewise, any immigration reform must be fair and make sense for the citizens and economy of the United States, as well as for people around the world who want to live the American dream.
While I appreciate the work of my colleagues on the “Highly Skilled Immigrant Equity Act” (S.386), the legislation falls short in its attempt to ameliorate the immigration crisis. The bill aims to resolve the backlog of employment-based (EB) visas by removing numerical limits per country. However, it would do so at the expense of American workers, highly skilled immigrants, workers from Latin America and Europe, as well as Florida’s major industries.
Currently the United States places a limit of 7% per country on the employment visas it grants annually for highly skilled immigrants. Removing this per-country limit would initially reduce backlogs and waiting time for workers coming from the countries with the highest number of EB visa applications: India and China. About 75% of current EB visa applications come from just these two countries. I am very sympathetic to those who are or have waited extremely long times for their EB visas to be processed and I want to find a solution to this problem, but we cannot create an unfair system that favors certain countries over others or harms immigrants who are not of these nations.
While 80% of H1-B visa holders are from India, the majority of EB visas target skilled workers from more than 100 different countries and from a wide range of industries. Removing the per-country limit would provide an unfair advantage to workers from countries with a high number of backlogs in the process: India and China.
Many constituents have shared how this bill would affect people in Florida, especially those who come to our state from Latin America. Florida’s vibrant economy and our location as an entry point to Latin America has enabled us to become a global center for commerce and business. We must also look at the sectors that would unfairly benefit from removing this cap, particularly the tech industry, and those that would be affected.
According to the Office of Economic Analysis, in 2017 Florida ranked fourth in the US and first in the southeast in jobs related to foreign direct investment with a total of 368,100 jobs supported by mostly foreign companies and 432,500 jobs supported by affiliates of foreign ownership. Businesses in Florida that rely on employees with EB visas would be adversely affected by this law.
We need a solution that protects American workers and the diversity we value, and I am hopeful that my colleagues in the Senate are willing to work with me to achieve those goals.
What skills does the United States need? Are we doing enough to protect American jobs? What sectors depend on foreign born workers? What are we doing to protect our tech sector from the threat of Communist China?
Any reform must do one thing above all others: protect American workers. Florida relies on and employs workers in a wide range of industries including commerce, tourism, transportation, and agriculture.
Although the current version of S.386 is not the answer, I am committed to working with my colleagues on a solution that makes sense for Florida and allows more people to participate. If we don’t do something about it, the long-term effects of this “quick fix” could have negative effects on Florida’s economy and the diversity we’ve worked so hard to protect.
Rick Scott is the Federal (Republican) Senator from Florida. He was governor of the state from 2011 to 2019.