Immigration reforms needed to spur workforce, leaders say

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LEHI — When Venu Bohini arrived in the United States to earn a master's degree in 1999, the country was teeming with positive energy and enthusiasm.

In 2004, he left the U.S. for a business venture in India. Bohini and his wife decided to return to the U.S. in 2010, and he received an employment-based green card within one year of applying while still living in India. His application for an employment-based green card was fast-tracked because of his management position with financial services company Finicity.

The land of opportunity he left a half-decade earlier had gone from the mindset of abundance to one of scarcity, he said. Colleagues from his college days has been waiting seven to eight years for their visas.

Bohini, Finicity's vice president of international operations and chief information officer, said he found it "puzzling" that it was such a long road for these highly skilled workers to become U.S. citizens. Some of these highly skilled workers may have a path to citizenship within a year, according to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who took part in an immigration reform roundtable discussion Thursday., a group that advocates for a more knowledge, talent and efficiency within the U.S. workforce, hosted the roundtable at Property Solutions.

We're growing as quickly as I can hire new people.

–Dave Elkington, CEO of

Hatch said it's problematic that workers educated in the United States are going to work in India, China and Canada because of the barriers to citizenship in the U.S. "This is because of our own stupidity, and we're going to try and change that," he said during the discussion. Business leaders from Utah-based venture capital, sales and tech firms expressed a common desire — access to more skilled workers.

"We're growing as quickly as I can hire good people," said Dave Elkington, chief executive officer of

Hatch co-sponsored the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 that seeks to increase the current cap of 65,000 for highly skilled worker visas to 115,000 annually. It would allow for that cap to increase in conjunction with the country's economic needs, with a maximum of 300,000 yearly H-1B visas.

The most recent attempt at immigration reform the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act . It was passed by the Senate in June, but is still awaiting approval in the House.

House Republicans are trying to put together their own piecemeal version of the bill, wanting to secure border patrol before granting amnesty.

"Frankly, we're in a state of defacto amnesty, whether you like it or not," Hatch said.

Regardless of whether someone is a U.S. citizen or working on an immigrant visa, if they are qualified, they will be hired, he said.

Some who participated in the discussion balked at the idea that immigration reform is being used as a means to pay workers low wages. One reason is that the H1B visa, allowing an employer to temporarily hire an immigrant worker, requires that the employer pay the worker at least as much as those in the United States, Microsoft immigration attorney Jack Chen said.

Hatch encouraged U.S. citizens to write their congressional representatives and let them know they support immigration reform.

"This is one of the most important bills that we have out there," he said.

It will be an "educational process" to persuade those who oppose the bill to sign on, Hatch said.

The Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene Sept. 9.

Contributing video: Richard Piatt

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