President Obama’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies could not only save up to five million people from deportation, it will also affect the U.S. tech industry.
Obama will rely on an executive action for immigration reform, rather than working with Congress. In a Nov. 20 speech, he asserted that his actions are lawful. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” he told the nation.
Obama’s plan will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which grants work permits and some legal protections to unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. Under the new guidelines, unauthorized immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens, and who have lived in the country for at least five years, will also be protected. Those immigrants will need to pass criminal background checks and pay taxes.
“I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy,” Obama added. On paper, his plan will streamline the ability of foreign entrepreneurs and STEM workers to obtain visas, although specifics went unannounced; spouses of certain visa holders, including at least a portion of those with an H-1B, will have the ability to obtain work permits.
Some tech pundits seemed unimpressed with that part of Obama’s plan. “If this is all there is, then the president has missed a real opportunity,” Russ Harrison, a senior legislative representative at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, told Re/Code. “He could have taken steps to make it easier for skilled immigrants to become Americans through the green card system, protecting foreign workers and Americans in the process.”
While Obama has taken steps to fix what he views as a broken system, he’s also shifted the debate on immigration to a whole new level. Expect tech firms across the nation to ponder the merits and drawbacks of his plan for quite some time to come.
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Image: White House