When software development manager Shivaas Gulati moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle to work for Remitly, an international mobile payment company, he figured processing the paperwork for his new work visa would take a couple of weeks.
But Gulati’s application got caught up in U.S. immigration bureaucracy and he ended up staying in India for months awaiting the approval to return to work in the United States.
“It was a five-month ordeal,” Gulati said. He said all he knew was that he had to wait. “They don’t tell you why it’s stuck.”
Gulalti was in the audience last week when his boss, Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer, joined several Washington state business organizations and OneAmerica last week for the release of a report that supports the expansion of immigration, including increasing the ability of companies to recruit and hire internationally, easing paths for international students to get jobs and creating ways for undocumented immigrants to become authorized to stay in the United States.
The report outlines the impact of immigration on Washington’s economy.
Last week’s announcement was part of a nationwide roll-out of similar reports in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, organized by the Partnership of a New American Economy. The coalition says it is bipartisan and is not pushing for particular candidates, though the group acknowledged the anti-immigration sentiments that are fueling many voters and candidates.
Other speakers included Michael Schutzler, President, Washington Technology Industry Association; Rich Stolz, OneAmerica executive director; Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce; and Mike Gempler, executive director of the Yakima-based Washington Growers League.
The group cited a shortage of workers — particularly in agricultural and technology fields — and a drain of talent as highly educated international students leave the United States shortly after earning their degrees.
Schutzler said it’s a myth that immigrants are taking work away from people who are already in the United States.
“Who creates the jobs in the tech industry? Seventy-five percent of all venture-funded tech companies are founded by immigrants,” Schutzler said.
Schutzler said that of the 275,000 technology employees in the region, fewer than 8,000 have an H-1B.
“The vast majority of the jobs in our industry have been created by immigrants for Washingtonians, taken by Washingtonians. Immigrants produce jobs, and they have for the entire history of our country,” he said.
Gempler said the agriculture industry would be vulnerable if immigration laws don’t change to expand temporary visa programs. The U.S. Department of Labor said that 55 percent of people who work in agriculture are self-identified as being in the United States undocumented, he said.
“It’s unconscionable that our country has not gone forward and pushed a solution,” he said. “We are exposed in our industry — I’ll admit it, and I think that everybody knows it.”
He said without enough workers, U.S. farms will lose business to agriculture in other countries.
Reform is “not just for the benefit of the people in the industry, but for the benefit the people who come here and work very hard to try to make a life for themselves in the United States and in Mexico and other countries from which they come,” Gempler said.
Gulati, the software engineer, said his case only seemed to break loose from bureaucracy after Oppenheimer, who hired him, traveled to New Dehli and parked himself in front of the U.S. consulate.
Despite traveling across the world, Oppenheimer couldn’t get an in-person meeting until a friend in the United States connected him with a congressperson who arranged for a short meeting with an immigration official.
Oppenheimer said he took that step because he believed Gulati would be essential for building Remitly.
Immigration policies have to change, Gulati said, “especially for people who are trying to build businesses or trying to help people like Matt build businesses.”