Why It’s Crazy to Deport Model Immigrant and Employee Jill Nguyen

By Gary Shapiro

I recently met Jill Nguyen, a 22-year-old immigrant from Vietnam who will learn this week whether she must leave the United States immediately. Her story has shaken me as it reflects the absurdity of our broken immigration laws.

Simply put, Jill’s chances of being allowed to stay in our country are not good. Even though she has worked most of her life to become a model American citizen, there’s a slim chance she’ll be allowed to stay here.

This spring, Jill applied for an H-1B visa, a special category for foreign workers in certain occupations. For the fourth consecutive year, the U.S. maxed out its H-1B visa cap in five business days. This year, the U.S. received more than 233,000 applications for just 85,000 visas. Hence, the lottery system.

Jill is beautiful in mind and spirit and is helping our nation by paying taxes and contributing to our workforce. She is a rising star at a fast-growing Washington, D.C.-area company.

Born and raised in Hanoi, Jill was the youngest child in a working class family. Her mother, a math teacher, understood the importance of education and encouraged Jill to learn English and apply to schools in the United States. Jill got a scholarship to attend a U.S. high school and at 14, Jill packed her bags and left alone for high school in the States.

She did well in high school and was offered a college scholarship. She attended and graduated from an American college, moved to D.C. and met Dr. Ximena Hartsock, an immigrant from Chile, and founder of Phone2Action, a company that links citizens with government. Ximena saw in Jill the qualities she looks for when she hires new members of her team: drive, energy and intelligence. Jill quickly became an indispensable part of this fast-growing company where she is now a key member of the digital and innovation teams.

Now Jill, Ximena and their friends and co-workers await the results of a lottery to get a shot at an employer-sponsored work visa that would put them on a path toward permanent residency.

What happens if Jill doesn’t snag a visa? Phone2Action is prepared to open a Canadian office, primarily to keep Jill as an employee.

Imagine that: A highly talented, American educated and trained employee, who is paying taxes and supporting herself, could be kicked out of this country, forcing her U.S. employer to open an office in Canada. So Ximena will shift her spending outside the U.S., and Jill will pay income taxes to the Canadian government.

I can think of no more perfect illustration of our broken immigration system.

Why can’t we as Americans agree on what type of immigrants we need and want in this country? Don’t we want highly-competent, U.S.-educated, patriotic, tax-paying, all-star employees? Why do our laws incentivize U.S. employers to open foreign offices to hire and hold on to the best and brightest? Even if we cap the number of immigrants, why don’t we have a system that lets those who contribute the most to our economy jump to the front of the line?

Let’s hope Jill wins the lottery. We are losing some of our best and brightest minds and hurting our global competitiveness. It’s time our political parties get serious and rewrite our immigration laws with an eye on innovation.

Disclosure: Phone2Action is a CTA member and vendor to CTA and Dr. Ximena Hartsock sits on CTA’s volunteer Board of Industry Leaders.