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Posted at 01:56 PM ET, 11/19/2012

Will Obama ‘seize’ skilled-immigrant moment?


President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (Joshua Roberts - Bloomberg)

Now that President Obama is fresh off of his reelection victory, immigration reform, while somewhat overshadowed by the impending “fiscal cliff,” is among the first issues he has said his administration will tackle. In his first news conference after the election, the president said that it was time to “seize the moment” and realize comprehensive immigration reform. Talk of such reform, however, has centered around how to tackle the challenge of illegal immigration. Talk of skilled immigration is not conducted at nearly the same decibel-level in Washington even as tech company chiefs continue to express their frustration over the apparent lack of qualified talent.

Kojo Nnamdi, host of the eponymous show, had Vivek Wadhwa on air Monday to talk skilled immigration — a topic Wadhwa has written about often and at length both for The Washington Post and elsewhere.

The author of the “The Immigrant Exodus,” has, along with others, advocated for a change to the nation’s immigration policy to give skilled immigrants, many of whom are educated in the United States, a more efficient pathway to permanent residency or citizenship. If changes to the system are not enacted soon, the United States, he fears, may lose its competitive edge.

”It’s a big loss for the U.S.,” said Wadhwa of the phenomenon where skilled immigrants, many of whom are educated in the United States, get frustrated with the immigration system and return to their home countries to start companies or look for permanent employment.

Demetrios Papademetriou, President and Board Member of the Migration Policy Institute cautioned against hyperbole, since the United States is, after all, “still the major immigrant-receiving country on Earth.”

“So, this is not about a catastrophe that is upon us. This is about being smart,” he said. “I think everybody agrees that we must do something about it.”

The radio program, a call-in show produced out of American University in Washington, D.C., showed that not everybody was in agreement about what exactly needed to be done. At least one caller phoned in to express his frustration with those who advocate expanding the visa pipeline when more resources should be directed to training students in the United States. Wadhwa, who said he supported improvements in education and training, said it needn’t be an either/or question.

And Papademetriou again pushed for calm.

“It is okay for people to be going back. That’s what education is all about. That’s what a cultural exchange is all about. But I don’t think the United States should be doing anything to push these people to go back,” he said.

But the question remains whether the Obama administration’s promised immigration overhaul bill will stop the pushing or let it continue.

What do you think? Should the United States change its immigration laws to make it easier for skilled immigrants to stay in the United States, or should the emphasis be placed on training U.S. students and workers? Is it even an either/or question?

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