Jun 7, 2022 - Technology

Tech urges DHS to let foreign-born workers' kids stay in U.S. past 21

Illustration of a passport with various stamps including the google logo

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Tech giants, led by Google, are opening up a new front in D.C.'s immigration battles by urging the Biden administration to allow children of high-skilled immigrant workers to remain in the U.S. legally beyond their 21st birthdays.

Why it matters: Major companies say they need the administration to act to help them retain high-skilled parents who fear their children will be deported, amid a tight labor market and ongoing green card headaches.

Catch up quick: About 200,000 children face the prospect of "aging out" of the immigration system in this way.

  • Many of the children came to the U.S. with parents on skilled worker visas, but lose dependent status when they turn 21, forcing them to scramble to find a temporary status or leave the country.
  • Tech companies note the U.S. does not produce enough American engineers and other high-skilled workers to meet their needs, exacerbating an already tight labor market.

What they're saying: "The prospect of having their children having to self-deport when they turn 21 deters potential employees from coming to the United States, and also makes it harder to retain employees who have been here for a while," Karan Bhatia, Google vice president of government affairs and policy, told Axios.

  • "For us, this is about retaining talent and attracting the best talent from around the world."

What's happening: In a letter organized by Google and sent Monday, Amazon, IBM and other tech companies asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas "to establish more robust aging out policies" so children can continue as beneficiaries of their parents' green card applications.

  • Bhatia told Axios the current aging out policy is too "rigid" and there is room for DHS to provide more flexibility.
  • "We are clearly in a period where we both need to be at the forefront of technological competitiveness globally, and we need to be doing everything we can to continue to stimulate and grow the American economy," Bhatia said. "This is a relatively straightforward and easy way to do both things."

Yes, but: During a Congressional hearing in April, Mayorkas told lawmakers the situation shows the need for legislation but didn't outline any plans for the agency to address this issue.

Between the lines: The tech companies also support bipartisan legislation, the America’s Children Act, that would create a pathway to legal status for the children, but Congress has remained stalled on immigration issues.

  • In a statement for Axios, Rep. Deborah Ross (D-NC), who introduced the House bill, blamed "bitter battles in Congress over immigration reforms" for the delay in movement.

By the numbers: Temporary visa holders made up about 9% of the U.S. computer occupations workforce — such as electrical engineer or programmer — in 2019, up from about 4% in 2003, according to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy, a group that supports immigration reform.

  • About 32% of that workforce was foreign-born in 2019, up from 25% in 2003.
  • The steeper increase in temporary visa holders is probably due in part to the backlog in processing green cards, NFAP president Stuart Anderson told Axios.
  • The issue is especially problematic for people from India, who face long waits for green cards due to per-country limits.

The big picture: The backlog has been an ongoing issue for the tech industry, which fears green cards they want for their employees will go to waste due to government processing delays.

  • That backlog is also contributing to an increase in the number of children aging out of the dependent status while their parents await green cards, Anderson pointed out.
  • A DHS spokesperson told Axios the agency is trying to work through the green-card backlog so children of visa holders don't age out of legal status while their parents await a green card.
  • "These are young people who have spent almost their whole life here, and except for shortcomings in U.S. immigration law, they would be American citizens," Anderson said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from DHS.

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