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Immigration and Energy Law

Do you know what energy law and immigration have in common? If you don’t, keep reading because the answer is: a lot more than you think.

As a firm that has been nationally recognized for its work in the energy law sector and now also offers immigration services, we would like to discuss today the intersection between these two areas of law.

Immigration and Energy Consumption

The legal immigrants who arrive every single day to the U.S. account for 31.5% of the total U.S. population growth between 1974 and 2007 according to the Federation of American Immigration Reform. More specifically, the Hispanic or Latino population segment accounts for 12.5% of the total U.S. population. And, as pointed out in the same report, population growth increases energy consumption at all levels. Let’s look at one example: during the same time period, despite major improvements in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles, total motor gasoline consumption in the U.S. increased by 53 percent. Total vehicle-miles for passenger cars, motorcycles, light trucks and SUVs rose approximately 113 percent between 1974 and 2000.

Based on these numbers alone, one can easily conclude that immigration - and population growth including native citizens born to foreign-born parents - has hugely contributed to the expansion of the energy industry.

And even though the U.S. has been challenged to reduce energy consumption in order to reduce CO2 emissions (remember that the U.S. has signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol but has not ratified it), our reliance on fossil fuels has made us increasingly dependent on foreign sources of petroleum. Can our country cut back on its reliance on domestic and foreign energy? The answer is no, unless population growth takes into account the addition of thousands of legal immigrants every single day, and the education and innovation that they bring with them.

Immigrants that Shaped the Energy Industry

The U.S. has long benefited from the bright minds and futuristic ideas of foreign-born citizens who came to this country and revolutionized the energy industry. Let’s talk about five of them.

  1. Nikola Tesla (Croatia): Tesla, who worked alongside Thomas Edison, created the Tesla coil and modern alternating current system in the late 1800’s. By doing so, Tesla made long-distance electric transmission possible.

  2. Samuel Insull (U.K.): Insull also worked with Edison and Tesla, and went on to invent the world’s largest power plant at the time making it possible for people of all socio-economic backgrounds to get electricity 24-7.

  3. Enrico Fermi (Italy): Fermi, who arrived in the U.S. in the late 1939’s, went on to become a U.S. citizen in 1944 and one of the most influential physicists in American History by building the world’s first nuclear reactor. He also initiated the first controlled nuclear chain reaction underneath the University of Chicago’s old football stadium. His work in nuclear energy cemented nuclear energy as a primary source of energy around the world. He was awarded the Nobel prize for Physics in 1938.

  4. Michael Polsky (Soviet Ukraine): A Jewish refugee from Soviet Ukraine, Polsky arrived in the U.S. in 1976 and a decade later started one of the largest developers of wind energy in the country. His contributions include the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, his alma mater, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the New Venture Challenge, a business plan competition that breeds new young talent every year in the energy field and beyond.

  5. Elon Musk (South Africa): Musk, a U.S. citizen since 2002, has been recently in the spotlight for his new venture: acquiring Twitter. But his green energy contributions under his electric car company Tesla have made him one of the most influential people in the world according to Time magazine by making a clean, renewable-energy future a reality.

These trailblazers are not the only U.S. immigrants who have made huge and lasting impacts on our energy landscape, but also foreign-born U. S. Citizens who are proud to call America their home. And, they provide compelling evidence that immigrants could be a huge contributor to America's (and the world's) energy crisis.

Employment-Based Visas and Energy Sponsors

So, how do we get the future Teslas and Musks here? Employment-based visas allow the brightest minds around the world to move to the U.S. to pursue higher education, teach at some of the best universities in the world, and work for the private sector, thus shaping their industry. Some employment-based visas require a U.S. company to serve as a sponsor or proof that the foreign national has indeed received national and/or international accolades from their peers and influential people in their sector.

One example of employment-based visa is the EB-2 National Interest Waiver immigrant visa. This visa allows foreign nationals to apply for a green card once they meet certain requirements, one of which is a business plan carefully prepared to present the ideas and goals of the immigrant for the U.S. market and benefits to the economy and population. We have personal experience with the EB-2 visa. Our clients include engineers with 20+ years of experience working in the oil & gas industry in Brazil for the country’s oil giant, Petrobras, and plans to transfer their vast knowledge and experience into the renewables sector in the U.S. focusing on wind energy efficiency innovation.

Another example is the EB-3 visa. High-skilled workers have also flooded the energy sector in the last twenty years by responding in a timely manner to areas of growing demand that have been met with a shortage of skilled workers. Labor market tightening is still an issue today to the energy industry with a shortage of talents in all energy-related skills including geologists, geophysicists and petroleum engineers, to name a few.

These immigration programs are a win-win for local employers, schools, and foreign workers who wish to come to the U.S. to live and contribute.

Understanding both worlds

The connection between immigration and the development and commercialization of energy technology is rarely discussed. Yet, legal immigrants who now account for nearly 12 percent of the U.S. population with nearly half of them being scientists and engineers with doctorate degrees. This is proof that the two areas are now more interconnected than ever.

Whether your needs are energy-related or immigration-based, Lear & Lear offers comprehensive legal services in both areas to meet all our clients’ needs with efficiency, speed and excellence. Contact us today with any questions.


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