What's more complicated than modern technology? Probably today's "human resources" issues. Consider the political minefield that we have to navigate in the hiring process— and then pick our way back through when we need to fire someone. And now we're confronted with a whole new issue—who's legal and who's not.
On the one hand, we have millions of illegals picking tomatoes, building houses, and doing all kinds of jobs that require little more than a willingness to work and some easily forged documents. On the other hand, we're chronically short of certain engineering and high-tech workers, whom we can bring into the country legally—but only up to a limit set by the Congress. Industry has long complained that these limits pose a threat to our global competitiveness.
The current quota of 65,000 "H-1B" visas for scientists, engineers, and computer specialists has already been filled, and some 85,000 petitions for such visas will be denied if the Congress doesn't raise the ceiling. Far larger numbers would apply if the limit were raised significantly. High-tech companies, naturally, want the limits raised or eliminated altogether, while some labor groups complain that such a move would push down American wages.
At the same time, some executives from companies in other industries—like farming, construction, or maybe even warehousing and trucking— prefer the de facto open southern border. The issue has moved from the back burner to the front burner in recent months due to heated discussions about the president's Immigration Reform bill. So where are we in this emotional debate about who comes to America, who stays, and who becomes a citizen?
Some believe we should slam the door shut on the Mexican border and deport the millions of undocumented workers already here. Others warn that unless we raise the quota for H-1B visas, we will lose in the global economy due to our shortage of skilled engineers and technicians. Still others believe there's nothing we can do about any of this. I suspect that's not your position. It certainly isn't mine.
So what do we do about all of this? For one thing, managers of businesses like yours and thousands of others throughout the country need to make their position clear to the public and to the politicians. We need productive people—both homegrown and imported. It's always been that way in America—from the Jamestown days to now. Yet we seem unable to develop the kinds of people who will gladly help harvest a crop, build a house, or handle the IT needs of a modern business.
Meanwhile, millions of people from dirt-poor places in Latin America sneak over the border to pick tomatoes, while thousands of others are denied entry even though we need them to keep us competitive.
Immigration policy is perhaps the most contentious national issue today—second only to the military actions we are involved with in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the immigration discussion growing more heated by the day, every politician in the country is walking on eggshells. So what do we do?
To the businessmen and women of America, I suggest one thing: Make your concerns known in Washington. We all need legal, qualified people of all different kinds, native born and imported, for all kinds of jobs. What gets in the way of that harms the country. That's what the Congress, the president, and the American people need to know.