Throughout our history, the United States has benefited from attracting many of the most talented minds on the planet. As a nation of immigrants, the United States found a winning formula; they pursued opportunities they could not find elsewhere and we as a country gained their entrepreneurship, intellect, hard work and skills, and the thousands of jobs they created in the United States.
Though there has been an ongoing public debate about immigration, an essential category is often a footnote: high-skilled, legal immigration. Specific visa classifications have been created to attract the world’s best and brightest to the United States. The most common are the H-1B and L-1, temporary visas that allow highly skilled foreign nationals to work in the United States for up to seven years. Employers who apply for an H-1B visa must not harm the working conditions of the current workforce, and they must pay the visa holder the prevailing or actual wage for that position (whichever is higher). But is the system meeting the needs of an economy that is fueled by skills and innovation at a time when other countries are aggressively competing for the same talent?
Holders of H-1B and L-1 visas are often forced to leave the country because their green card applications are not approved by the time their visas expire. H-1B visas, also known as high-skilled immigrant visas, are critical to the technology community. We have the jobs available yet lack the workforce to fill them.
Foreign graduates of American universities often cannot obtain visas or green cards to stay in the country, despite having multiple employment offers. And many in the pipeline would like the opportunity to come to the United States but simply choose to seek opportunities in countries where they feel more wanted.
They are confounded by the bureaucracy. The waiting periods are too long and the regulations too inflexible. Foreign nationals of any single country can receive no more than seven percent of available green cards in a specific year. In effect this discriminates against individuals from populous nations that possess huge talent pools, like China and India.
If the best talent in the world cannot get into the United States, we face a true threat to our economic and national security. It is in our national self-interest to recognize the enormous contributions immigrants have made to our technical dominance.
One of every four scientists and engineers in the United States is foreign-born. They fill our graduate schools and research labs. In terms of doctoral degrees, 54 percent of math degrees, 60 percent of computer science degrees, and 65 percent of engineering degrees awarded in the United States go to foreign nationals. Because they often pay full tuition, their financial support makes many graduate programs economically viable.
Many foreign graduates choose to stay — if they are allowed. They conduct the basic and applied scientific research that has so often formed the knowledge base for innovative products, companies, and industries. The United States even benefits from those foreign nationals who do return home after graduation. These individuals become the political and business elites in their countries.
Returning home with an American education, they retain positive impressions of the United States that foster strong friendships and linkages for a lifetime. By deterring those who want to stay, we lose their intellectual abilities and innovations. We force our companies to follow them abroad. We lose the new companies, wealth, and thousands of high-paying jobs they would have created. By kicking out tomorrow’s Albert Einstein, Andy Grove, or Sergey Brin, we help competing nations enhance their talented labor pools by chipping away at our own.
The immigrant contribution to the U.S. is undeniable and high skilled foreign immigrants continue to drive substantial economic growth. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were founded by immigrants or their children. Additionally, researchers discovered that Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants, like IBM, employ more than 10 million people worldwide. And the revenue generated by these companies is greater than the GDP of every country in the world outside the U.S., except China and Japan, with combined revenues of $4.2 trillion. Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants alone employ more than 3.6 million people- equivalent to the entire population of Connecticut.
Many of America’s greatest technology brands — Apple, Google, AT&T, eBay, General Electric, and IBM, to name just a few — owe their origin to a founder who was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.
And if we don’t fix our immigration system and make it innovation friendly, that next great invention may be turned away at the border.
TechAmerica believes that our current immigration system is hindering current and future competitiveness, innovation, and job creation in the U.S. As such, high-skilled immigration reform must be a major legislative priority in the 113th Congress.
The political climate seems to be changing but while there is general agreement that the system is broken, finding consensus on how to fix the problem is hard.
An estimated 12 million immigrants are living in the US illegally. Those who have applied to immigrate through various legal channels face backlogs of many years. Temporary work visa numbers for highly skilled workers continue to run out in the middle of the government fiscal year, even when unemployment rates remain high. US immigration law has generally changed only incrementally since a major reform law was passed in 1986.
TechAmerica remains deeply committed to fixing the broken immigration system. TechAmerica urges Congress to pass commonsense reform of our immigration system during this session. Meaningful immigration reform is necessary for our country’s technology sector employers to out-innovate our competitors in the global marketplace. Equally important is for the US economy to benefit from access to the cutting-edge talents of highly skilled, foreign-born individuals, many of whom are currently being educated in US colleges and universities.
We strongly support a fair and equitable system for H-1B and L-1 visas that balances the needs for both access to talent with effective enforcement to mitigate any unnecessary waste, fraud or abuse. The long term solution is to build a consistent pipeline of STEM educated students in the U.S. but the tech industry’s immediate need can only be met by allowing technology companies’ access to the best and brightest highly-skilled immigrants from around the world. By reforming the current H1-B visa regulations, which limit the per country numerical limitations for employment based permanent resident visas (“green cards”), we can achieve this near-term goal.
A strong piece of legislation that TechAmerica supported in the 112th Congress known as the StartUp Act 2.0 has been re-introduced as the StartUp Act 3.0. This bill tackles several issues critical to the innovation economy including immigration reform by creating new STEM and entrepreneur visa categories and eliminating the per-country cap. TechAmerica also supports the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (I-Squared), which increases the cap of employment based nonimmigrant H1-B visas, more adequetly utilizes unused green card numbers approved by the previous Congress, excludes highly qualified applicants from the visa cap such as individuals with degrees in STEM fields.
High-skilled immigration reform must address the challenges and limitations skilled industries and employees face with nonimmigrant visas (the H-1B and the L-1) and permanent resident visas (Green Cards). In addition, reform legislation needs to promote effective and transparent visa processing, adjudication, and reporting requirements.
Reforms we support:
Coordinator, Government Affairs
Director, Public Policy