Bloomberg Makes Immigration Pitch in D.C.

The New York mayor says America can create jobs by catering to foreign-born entrepreneurs.
by | September 28, 2011 AT 2:27 PM

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Washington today to make his pitch for how to fix the country’s high unemployment rate: make it easier for immigrants who have technical skills or the willingness to start businesses to come here.

Bloomberg is a co-chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group that includes business leaders and more than 100 mayors who are promoting immigration reform as a way to stimulate the country's economy.

The mayor, speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged Congress to allocate a larger portion of visas for business purposes (as opposed to reasons regarding family or refuge), make it easier for foreign students to remain here upon completing their degrees, and encourage foreign entrepreneurs to emigrate here.

Those solutions, Bloomberg says, don’t cost the taxpayers anything. “I believe we can pass a bill to do more to strengthen the economy than anything that is being discussed in Washington today,” Bloomberg says.

“There’s a time for political campaigning, but there’s also a time to save America… it's not something that can wait for the next election,” he added.

Bloomberg pushed for an overhaul of the way the country distributes permanent visas. Eighty-five percent are for family reunification or refugees, while just 15 percent are issues for economic reasons, according to Bloomberg. Shifting that balance would help grow the American economy. “In today’s global marketplace we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and to succeed,” Bloomberg said. “It is sabotaging our economy. I call it national suicide.” He also advocated more green cards for high-skilled workers.

Immigrants who come to the United States for graduate school lack a defined, permanent path towards residency here upong graduation, Bloomberg says. Meanwhile, those same highly-educated workers are being actively recruited by other countries. “We’ve become the laughing stock of the world with this policy,” Bloomberg said.  He called on Congress to allow high-skilled foreign workers to be granted indefinite U.S. residency upon graduating from American schools.

Bloomberg also urged Congress to eliminate the cap on the number of H-1B visas that are issued to foreign workers with specialty skills who work as scientists, engineers and computer programs. There’s a cap of 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually. “This is just absurd to deny American workers access to the workers they need,” he said. “Let the markets work.”

And he said that the U.S. should eliminate caps on the number of visas issued to residents of each country. As it stands, a maximum of 7 percent of the employment-based visas each year can go to residents of any single country. As a result, highly-skilled workers from populous countries like China and India may face a more difficult time getting the visas than residents of smaller nations.

Last week, several Indian media outlets reported an uptick in the number of rejected visa applications of Indian technology workers, prompting the country's commerce minister to call for a more streamlined process. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) last week introduced a bill  to eliminate the caps on visas by country.

Bloomberg also reiterated a controversial proposal he’s made in the past. To help improve industrial cities that are decline, the federal government could offer full citizenship to immigrants who agree to live in a designated city for seven years and are willing to forgo any federal, state and local subsidies.

“You would fill each of those cities overnight,” Bloomberg told the audience at the Chamber. Immigrants would buy and improve homes, demand better schools and create businesses, the mayor argued. “Nobody could argue they’re coming here to scam the system.”

The economic development spurred by immigrants would help existing residents find jobs, and the industries immigrants create would replace those that have died off, Bloomberg argued.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has previously said that idea "doesn't make a lot of sense."