Booming tech companies and small-town farms provide very different products to Utahns, yet our country's immigration problem is bridging the gap between our two industries as together we push for action that will make our country stronger and more competitive in a global economy.
The U.S. is at a historic turning point in technology. America currently leads the world in innovative companies and technology solving some of the world's most pressing challenges.
American companies make up 69 percent of global public tech market capitalization. However, we are at risk of falling behind. It's more important than ever that we adopt policies that will attract and retain the world's leading innovators.
Some of the brightest and most talented students attending American universities many of whom have dreams of entrepreneurship or working for American companies are sent home after graduation. It's particularly troubling because in 2011, 18 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were established by immigrant entrepreneurs. It's a loss for job creation, too. Every foreign graduate with a graduate degree from a U.S. university who stays and works in a STEM field creates 2.62 American jobs.
The status quo is not working for the agricultural industry either. Crops are literally dying in the fields while farmers wait for our broken system to work. Millions of farm operators provide food for American families in addition to countries around the world and therefore play a central role in the American economy. Putting food on the table is not an easy task. The effort, from seed to store, is filled with backbreaking work.
Science and technology have improved farming techniques but we still need the hard-working people who keep our vital agricultural industry – and the revenue and jobs that come with it – going. We struggle constantly, however, to find the skilled workers we need to run our farms – no matter the wage we pay.
These are daunting problems, but smart solutions are on the table and, thankfully, are currently included in legislation being considered by the Senate and endorsed by Sen. Orrin Hatch ("Why I'm voting yes," Opinion, June 25).
Reform should start with securing the border and include a holistic approach that protects industries creating jobs and generating the products and innovations that make our country work.
Our industries are both uniquely harmed by our current haphazard system. We hope our industries will be considered in the final immigration solution. We believe that a truly forward-looking compromise will provide comprehensive immigration reform with an eye toward growing our economy and protecting American jobs.
The Senate bill, while not perfect, seeks to address some of our challenges. It would create a new type of visa, a "W Visa," specifically designed for the agricultural workforce. For workers already here, the bill includes a blue card program that would provide the right to work and travel in the U.S. but require a five-year commitment of work. At that point, a blue visa holder would be eligible to apply for green card status.
These changes would be significant. In addition to providing a fair system to address the status of agricultural workers, they would seek to ensure a consistent and reliable labor force to keep the agricultural industry going. For the tech community, the current version of the Senate bill significantly increases in the number of H-1B visas, which allow American companies to hire foreign workers in specialty industries.
Our businesses have different goals and needs, yet we both recognize that our present immigration laws are not working. American immigration policy should be driven by our interests as a country and written to help grow American industries that build jobs and our economy.
The Senate has taken important steps toward comprehensive legislation that puts a focus back on merit and jobs that will grow our economy. We are watching to make sure Washington finishes the job.
Josh James is founder and CEO of Domo, a Utah software company. He co-founded and was CEO of Omniture, and founded Silicon Slopes, a nonprofit promoting the interests of Utah's high-tech community. Leland Hogan is president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, UFBF serves more than 29,000 member families.