Finley: Send us your highly skilled workers

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Congress may let the country grind to a standstill over the issue of providing protections for the so-called Dreamers. That’s bad.

Worse is that it is throttling the economy by failing to adopt strategic immigration policies to feed the ravenous appetite of American companies for highly skilled workers.

“For some companies in our industry, this is becoming a crisis,” says Jeff Nelson, executive vice president of Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions, of the shortage of tech workers.

Nelson says S3 has 120 openings for skilled employees in the Detroit office, 80 in the Richmond, Virginia, office and similar vacancies in its locations across the country.

“Our first goal is to put a Detroiter to work in a job in Detroit, preferably a military veteran,” Nelson says. “But there are some skills we just can’t find here.”

So the default answer is to train a foreign worker to service S3’s American customers, and then ship the work outside the U.S. to that employee. That costs the U.S. tax dollars, and the economy talent that could help attract even more business.

Nelson is currently expanding S3’s presence in Argentina, where it serves the operations of U.S. companies. Argentina is rich with tech talent, and if immigration policies were more sensible, those workers could fill assignments in Detroit and other American cities while they were needed, and then return home.

That’s the path most would like to take, says Noah Mamet, the former U.S. ambassador to Argentina who is consulting with S3 and other American companies.

“Many come to the U.S. to attend universities,” Mamet says. “They get educated here, and they’d like to work here awhile and then return to Argentina to work for American companies there.”

That would benefit both countries. But restrictions on H1B visas, already too tight and made even more so by the Trump administration last year, make it less possible. The visas allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations when they can’t find similarly skilled Americans.

A growth-focused immigration policy would greatly ease those visa restrictions, or get rid of them entirely. The global workforce must be flexible and fluid. American companies should be able to dip into the talent pool wherever it exists. And workers should be free to follow the demand for their skills wherever they’re needed.

This is a discussion separate from border security, refugees or illegal immigration.

This piece of the immigration debate is about helping our own companies achieve maximum growth, and that demands keeping the talent pipeline wide open.

Immigration should be driven by supply and demand and skilled workers viewed as a commodity. When the economy demands workers, the door should widen; when demand subsides, it should tighten again.

If we’re going to compete globally, we must behave globally. And that means not obsessing over a skilled immigrant’s race, religion or country of origin, but rather on the benefits he or she can bring to the American economy.

We should add this line to the poem on the Statue of Liberty: “we’ll also take your engineers, computer techs, doctors, inventors, entrepreneurs and IT specialists.”

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.