Immigrants Key to U.S. Economic Growth

It’s too early to call it an emerging consensus, but opinion leaders across the political spectrum are converging on the same idea: America’s economy needs more immigrants in order to thrive. Jonah Lehrer’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal is a case in point. (See Why America Needs Immigrants, by Jonah Lehrer, Wall Street Journal, 14.May.2011.) Lehrer commented on the recent study by Vivek Wadhwa and his colleagues at Duke, U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard, finding that large numbers of American-educated Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs have returned home to start new businesses, finding the grass is greener there for startups. (See Study: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Leaving U.S. for Better Opportunities at Home, MurthyBlog, 11.May.2011.)

Echoing the concerns of immigration experts and economists, Lehrer warns that we need to compete more effectively for the best and brightest minds, especially in science, engineering, and related fields. Why? These people invent things and develop products that create new jobs, Lehrer says, noting that:

“The U.S. Patent Office says immigrants invent patents at roughly double the rate of nonimmigrants, which is why a 1% increase in immigrants with college degrees leads to a 15% rise in patent production. (In recent years, immigrant inventors have contributed to more than a quarter of all U.S. global patent applications.) These immigrants also start companies at an accelerated pace, co-founding 52% of Silicon Valley firms since 1995. It’s no accident that immigrants founded or co-founded many of the most successful high-tech companies in America, such as Google, Intel and eBay.”

Lehrer also points out that “Last year, foreign students studying on temporary visas received more than 60% of all U.S. engineering doctorates,” and that “only 5% of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, but they’re responsible for more than 50% of sustained economic expansion. …”

This trend also worries Alex Nowrasteh, another frequent commenter on immigration policy, who is concerned that the President’s focus on the DREAM Act leaves more pressing needs unaddressed – like the need to keep more foreign science and technology graduates here in the United States, after graduation. (See If You Care About Immigration, You Should Care About the STAPLE Act, by Alex Nowrasteh, Fox News, 16.May.2011.)

If we want to spur immigrant entrepreneurship, Nowrasteh argues, we should make room for more immigrant graduates in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – and expand the H1B program to allow them to stay here and work. To that end, Nowrasteh says, Congress should support legislation proposed by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would help more U.S. trained STEM grads to stay here. The bill is called the “Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s from Leaving the Economy Act of 2011” – “STAPLE Act” for short – and, according to a Library of Congress summary, it would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, to:

“exempt from: (1) direct numerical limitations aliens who have earned a Ph.D. degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from a U.S. institution of higher education and who have an offer of employment from a U.S. employer in a field related to such degree; and (2) H1B visa (specialty occupation) numerical limitations aliens who have a U.S. STEM Ph.D. and with respect to whom the petitioning employer requires such an education.” (See Bill Text, 112th Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 399.)

At this writing, the measure has 10 co-sponsors, and has been referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, where it awaits further action.

In Nowrasteh’s view, the STAPLE Act would help us to rectify our current immigration problems, where existing laws “create an enormous black market [in illegal immigrant labor], ship highly-skilled immigrants home after educating them, and generally deprive American businesses of workers and customers.” Although most observers agree that Congress is unlikely to take action on a comprehensive immigration reform bill before the 2012 elections, some narrowly-drawn immigration measures might squeak through before then; whether the STAPLE Act is one of them remains to be seen, but absent a Congressional fix, the immigrant brain-drain is likely to continue.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.