Highly Skilled Immigrants Boost our Economy, but Strict H1B Cap Holds Them (and Us) Back

As the United States continues to make strides in its post-recession economic recovery, much emphasis has been placed on industries based in STEM areas; that is science, technology, engineering, and math. In an increasingly global and hyper-competitive economy, STEM based fields extend far beyond the established tech world of Silicon Valley. Across the nation, nearly every component of our economy is impacted by STEM, including healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, and medical research. And as time moves on, STEM’s role in reinvigorating the U.S. economy is expected to increase exponentially. Therefore, it is especially troubling that a recent report ranked the United States second-to-last among major economies for its policies related to allowing businesses to hire highly-skilled foreign national workers.

The report, which was released by the Business Roundtable, a business-lobbying group, examined the immigration policies of ten world leaders, including the United States, Germany, Japan, and Canada. The U.S. was ranked an embarrassing 9th out of the 10, barely edging out Japan, which placed dead last. The cause of this lowly ranking was, in large part, this nation’s strict limits on the number of new H1Bs that can be granted each year. This, of course, comes as no surprise to the thousands of American businesses that filed cap-subject H1B petitions earlier this month with the full understanding that fewer than half were likely to be selected in the H1B lottery. With only 85,000 slots available each fiscal year, it is a foregone conclusion that many tech companies desperate for skilled STEM workers will be denied the employees they so sorely need. [See Business Group Ranks U.S. Near Last in Welcoming Skilled Immigrants, by David Morgan, Reuters, 25.Mar.2015.]

The United States continues to provide stellar educations to foreign national students in STEM fields, only to then deny them the ability to remain in the U.S. long-term and apply their skills in their respective fields. Instead, these highly skilled professionals return to their home countries or are snapped up by nations with more liberal work visa policies; in-turn, their knowledge and talents are effectively used against American businesses on the global economic stage. This concern was recently conveyed by Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, in testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. During his testimony, Johnson cited research that consistently proves that immigration boosts the economy, and warned that America “…will be left behind” if we do not reform our H1B cap policies. He also stressed the importance of importing skilled STEM workers, noting, “… innovation is the key to growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs. In turn, the key to innovation is attracting, growing, and retaining a skilled workforce. Foreign born workers, especially STEM workers, have been and will continue to be a critical part of this equation.” [See The Power and Potential of High Skilled Immigration, by Benjamin Johnson, Immigration Impact, 17.Mar.2015.]

The future of the U.S. economy is increasingly reliant on a thriving, multi-faceted tech industry and the highly skilled and educated employees who sustain it. Yet every year, the U.S. becomes its own worst enemy in this regard, with immigration policies that lead to the rejection of thousands of H1B petitions from foreign born STEM workers eager to take part in the American dream and contribute to the success of the United States. In order for us to retain our position on the world stage, we must reform our H1B policies. Only then can we hope to preserve our robust economy and global dominance for future generations.


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