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Catwalking in

A Congress divided over reform legislation is somehow able to unite to help supermodels get work visas.

June 25, 2008

Unable to muster the political will last year to pass comprehensive immigration reform and address the dearth of both unskilled and highly skilled labor that drags on our economy, Congress is now ready to act. Standing tall in the courage of their convictions, lawmakers are proposing to give supermodels their own category of work visa. This is especially bold because while easing the way for several hundred models to work during New York's Fashion Week, they must resolutely ignore the pleas of high-tech businesses seeking more visas for well-educated workers.

The number of H1-B visas awarded each year to skilled foreign employees is 65,000 (plus 20,000 for foreign graduates of U.S. universities), despite the desperate demand. On the first day of the application period this year, H1-B visa requests exceeded 120,000. Meanwhile, the shortage of workers has inspired employers to put down roots elsewhere. Last July, Microsoft Corp. announced it would open shop in Vancouver, Canada, where U.S. immigration policies won't hinder it from hiring the highly skilled people it needs.

Thankfully, Congress' reform efforts don't stop with models. Other bills in the pipeline would make it easier for athletes and entertainers to work in the United States. Our crops may go unpicked, but never again will Amy Winehouse have trouble getting a speedy visa. The key to amassing support for such legislation is to make the tough compromises necessary to ensure their minuscule social impact. Last year's behemoth reform bill tangled with border security, guest worker programs, a pathway to citizenship -- far too controversial. Now, even Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River), who sponsored a bill to deny citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants, is backing the bill giving the Department of Homeland Security 30 days to process visas for entertainers.

If, however, Congress does give -- shall we call them catwalk engineers? -- their own visa category, they will no longer have to compete with computer wizards for H1-Bs. That could free up to 1,000 slots for high tech. We'll take them any way we can get them.

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