Senator Scott: Immigration overhaul proposal could hurt Florida’s economy

August 31, 2020

Miami Herald
Op-Ed: Sen. Rick Scott
August 31, 2020

Right now the United States Senate is considering a massive overhaul to our nation’s immigration system. And, what is shocking is that it could pass without even a single vote in the United States Senate. You read that correctly: a major change to our immigration system is being considered under “unanimous consent” in the U.S. Senate, which means this bill could pass without a vote ever occurring.

It hasn’t yet passed because I am the only senator holding it up. I recently objected to passing a bill that could have long-term negative impacts on our immigration system and Florida’s economic future. Only in Washington could politicians try to sneak something like this through without Americans fully understanding the impact.

I am proud to represent Florida, a state that celebrates diversity. We’re a state that welcomes immigrants from around the world, and has succeeded because of their many contributions. As governor and now as a member of the U.S. Senate, it is my job to protect the diversity that we hold dear. We also have to reform our long-broken immigration system and we have to secure our border. Reforms must be fair and make sense for the American people and economy, as well as for those around the world hoping to share in the American dream.

While I appreciate my colleagues’ work on the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act” (S.386), it is a piece-meal attempt to address the immigration crisis. The bill aims to fix the employment-based (EB) visa backlog by eliminating the numerical per-country caps. 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 most important industries. The United States currently places a 7 percent per-country cap for high-skilled EB visas. Eliminating this cap would initially reduce the current backlog and wait time for workers coming from the countries with the highest number of EB visa applications – India and China. About 75 percent of current EB visa applications are from those two countries alone. I am very sympathetic for those that have been waiting an extraordinarily long time for their EB visas, and want to find a solution to help, but we cannot create an unfair system that favors certain countries over others or hurts immigrants that do not happen to be from these nations.

While 80% of H1-B visa holders are from India, 75 percent of EB visas go to skilled workers from over 100 different countries working in a wide range of industries. Eliminating the per-country cap would provide an unfair advantage to workers from backlogged countries – India and China.

I’ve heard from many constituents about how this bill would impact people in Florida, especially those who came to Florida from Latin America. Florida’s booming economy and location as the gateway to Latin America has allowed us to become a global hub for trade and business. We must look at the sectors that eliminating this cap would unjustly benefit, particularly the tech industry, and what sectors it would hurt. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Florida ranks 4th in the U.S. and 1st in the Southeast in foreign direct investment employment with a total of 368,100 jobs supported by majority foreign-owned companies and 432,500 jobs supported by overall foreign-owned affiliates in 2017 alone. All these Florida foreign backed EB visa workers will be negatively impacted by this bill.

We need a new approach that protects American workers and protects the diversity we cherish, and I am hopeful my colleagues in the Senate will be willing to work with me toward those goals.

What skills does the United States need? What sectors rely on foreign-born workers? What are we doing to protect our technology sector from the threat of Communist China? Are we doing enough to protect American jobs from China?

Reforms to address the visa backlog must protect give companies, foreign investors and skilled workers from across the world the same opportunity to work in the United States. And we can’t do it in a way that hurts American workers. Florida relies on and employs workers in a wide-range of industries including trade, tourism, transportation and agriculture. Removing the cap could unjustly benefit states whose economies rely on technology.

The current iteration of S.386 is not the answer, but I’m committed to working with my colleagues on a solution that makes sense for Florida and allows more people to participate. If we don’t speak up now, the long-term effects of this quick fix could damage Florida’s economy and the diversity that we’ve worked so hard to protect.

Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott represents the state in the U.S. Senate.