Lucy Edwards (Anchor): "A Medford businessman and immigrant says new immigration legislation will hurt the U.S."
Edwards: Immigration legislation passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate is expected to be signed by President Clinton soon. The legislation was introduced by Senator Dole for Senator Alan Simpson, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee issues. Among other things, the bill cuts back on legal immigration to the U.S. Photius Coutsoukis, a Greek immigrant, is the president and owner of Information Technology Associates in Medford. His business is currently the only provider of immigration software to individuals. They provide a database of information about immigration and immigration forms. Coutsoukis says the latest legislation might be good for his business, but it won't be good for the U.S. as a whole. Coutsoukis: The intended purpose of the bill is to restrict illegal immigration, but, for political reasons, certain restrictions have been placed also on legal immigration and those are the ones I would be concerned about the most, as far as business is concerned. As far as my own business is concerned, the more restrictions the better, of course, because it makes it more likely that somebody would need a computer program, in order to navigate the daunting immigration bureaucracy. But for business in general it is not so good, because it penalizes employers, and in particular employers of individuals with extraordinary abilities and education and who are the most likely to contribute. Let me give you an example. Currently, those who are in college in the United States can proceed for and adjust status to permanent residence, or somebody who can work here. There is a proposal where there would have to be a three year period, during which these individuals would have to work in their own country before they can apply. Now, given that, somebody like myself, for example, who came to the United States to go to college and proceeded to enter the work force, would not have been here. If I had to go back to Greece, I think that, after three years, I would have decided to stay there, and I know that that is not uncommon. Consider the fact that a huge number, a large percentage, of those who receive PhDs in engineering, for example, in the United States, are foreign born. If those individuals do not have the opportunity to practice their skills in the United States upon graduation, there is a lesser likelihood that they would stay here and, instead, they would take their talents elsewhere. Edwards: In some ways it would hurt the United States. It might actually help the countries of origin. It may help India or Greece... Coutsoukis: Yes, yes. Edwards: ...if the PhDs were to return. Coutsoukis: Yes, exactly. It is not only this. Consider, for example, that there is a limited pool of certain skills in the United States and the purpose of legal immigration has been, and should be, to bring individuals with the skills that are not easily available here. Now, if, say, a large company like Hewlett Packard, who need a large number of technical individuals, cannot find them locally, they would, instead, export the work to, say, India. India has the world's largest population of computer programmers, to my knowledge. And, I am sure, China is another large talent pool. Now, if these projects are exported, then the jobs are exported. If the individuals from those countries are allowed to come here, then the jobs stay here, even if they are performed by individuals who are foreign born, who, of course, pay taxes -- they come from countries, usually, where paying taxes is not such a bad idea -- and who may start their own companies, who contribute locally, here. Edwards: What do you think is the purpose of the current immigration bill, in terms of both, you know, on the surface of what it looks like and perhaps a deeper purpose of why the fixation with immigration. Coutsoukis: Well, the stated purpose is to limit illegal immigration and, to some extent, I suppose it may succeed, but the unintended purposes and the subliminal ideas behind it, are not necessarily straight forward. There has been a lot of political backlash against immigration, in general. Anti-immigration is a popular issue, just like where, recently, the Republicans brought up that spouses have to be of the opposite sex, made that an issue. During an election year [it] becomes something that is not the relevant issue but it becomes a popular issue with the voters. So, this is what is causing the new bill to not be what it is intended to be. Edwards: So, in other words, like anti-immigrant sentiment in the general population ... Coutsoukis: Exactly. Just like ... Edwards: ...fuels ... Coutsoukis: ... there is an anti-gay sentiment... Edwards: That's right. Coutsoukis: ... and in order to satisfy a public, they would do something like this. Now, other unintended purposes: if they do beef up enforcement, border patrols and all that, to a great extent, as stated, then, naturally, resources would be diverted from the parts of the INS that deal with legal immigration. It is already extremely difficult for somebody dealing with the INS to even get a person at the other end of the phone. If you want an immigration form, you have to wait for weeks, or months. And this is where our computer program comes into the picture. Now, if they have to divert additional resources, it would be even more difficult. Edwards: You also have a web site. Is that right? Coutsoukis: Yes, "immigration-usa.com". The site offers immigration information from government sources and it is a free site and we get, of course, a "gazillion" inquiries from around the world. We do not offer legal advice, but we do tell them where they can get additional information and so on. That site, of course, has a second purpose, the main purpose of promoting our computer software. Edwards: How many visitors do you estimate visit that web site? Coutsoukis: My estimate is four to five thousand visitors per day. One of the main reasons is that it is so difficult to obtain information from the Immigration Service, or to deal with them in general. They are the most Byzantine, difficult bureaucracy in the United States. They are many many years behind, say, the IRS, in terms of the technology they use and in terms of the means of public contact. Edwards: In your experience, as an immigrant, what do you think immigrants provide to the United States? Coutsoukis: I think that, when people think of immigration, they need to consider not only the fact that this country was, is, a country of immigrants, ultimately, but also that this country is not in such a good shape, socially. There are serious social issues here, crime, teenage pregnancies, you know, all these other things and the tendency is to think that, oh, it's everywhere, drugs, etc., so, we are doing OK. But that is not the case. If you were to compare social statistics between, say, Greece and the United States, it is like day and night. What people need to understand is that, whereas sociologists in the United States say that this country is headed for chaos and that there is no solution in sight, because of the way people are here, they may consider the possibility that there are people elsewhere, who, if they were allowed to come in in large numbers, might help change that. Edwards: Photius Coutsoukis is the president and owner of Information Technology Associates in Medford. I am Lucy Edwards...
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