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Business group ranks US near last in welcoming skilled immigrants

[WASHINGTON] The United States ranks near the bottom among major economies in terms of policies to allow hiring highly skilled immigrant workers, according to a study by a business lobbying group that supports relaxing immigration controls.

A 62-page report, expected to be issued Wednesday by the Business Roundtable, found that the United States ranked ninth out of 10 countries including Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, France and Canada. Japan ranked 10th.

US restrictions on immigrants for jobs in science, technology and other specialized fields have long been an issue for business leaders who say they are unable to fill highly skilled positions. Opponents of more liberal immigration policies contend that there are plenty of skilled US citizens and that immigration suppresses wages.

The Business Roundtable based its results on interviews with immigration attorneys and its own analysis of immigration laws. The results did not reflect actual employment.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 as the best performance, the United States scored a 2.3 rating overall. It received a 2.0 for policies on hiring high-skilled foreign nationals and a 1.5 for laws that would attract foreign entrepreneurs.

Germany, Britain and France owed some of their high marks to the lack of immigration barriers within the European Union. But Business Roundtable said EU countries still have an advantage over the United States because of a lack of restrictive quotas for highly skilled non-EU immigrants.

The US limits visas for skilled foreign workers and graduate students to about 85,000 a year combined, the report said. In 2014, employers sent US authorities more than 172,000 visa applications for the federal fiscal year beginning Oct 1.