Dear Congress: The American Economy Depends on High Skilled Immigrants

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, will hold a hearing on high-skilled immigration. This hearing is being held at a time when the tone on immigration reform is being driven by presidential candidates after years of Washington “kicking the can” on fixing our broken immigration system so that it works to grow our economy.

ITI has long advocated for Congress to meaningfully reform our antiquated skilled immigration system in a way that would supplement and augment the U.S. workforce. Instead of the current dysfunction, Congress needs to serve our national interests by granting U.S. businesses the power to anticipate and meet the demands of the U.S. economy – now and in the future. As the subcommittee convenes tomorrow, we urge senators to keep in mind the following:

  • The STEM Shortage is Real. The technology sector is creating jobs faster than we can fill them. It is estimated that in two short years – by 2018 – the United States will face a shortage of 223,000 workers with advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation reported that in the last 10 years, an additional 1.1 million computer jobs were created in the United States. This represents a 36 percent increase when compared to a three percent increase in the overall job market. If current growth rates continue, the United States will create an additional 150,000 computer jobs each year over the next decade. However, at the same time, our education system is not producing enough qualified workers to meet this demand. For instance, in 2013, U.S. universities graduated 75,565 computer scientists (50,962 of which had bachelor’s degrees and 24,603 had advanced degrees). Of these students with advanced degrees, 49 percent were foreign-born. Without effective high-skilled immigration reforms, many of these graduates will be forced to leave the U.S. workforce, taking the knowledge they gained here to innovate elsewhere.
  • Immigration Bolsters U.S. Innovation. Here are the facts: from 1995 to 2005, immigrants founded 25 percent of the venture-backed start-ups in the United States, and more than 50 percent of those in Silicon Valley. In 2011, immigrant entrepreneurs were responsible for more than one in four new U.S. businesses, and immigrant businesses employ one in every ten people who work in the private sector. That same year, 76 percent of patents awarded to the top ten patent-producing U.S. universities had at least one foreign-born inventor. It goes without saying that foreign-born entrepreneurs are necessary for our economic vitality; we must ensure that our immigration system works for us, rather than against us.
  • The Tech Workforce is Global. Current dynamics require tech companies to have talent deployed throughout the world to develop, produce, maintain, and sell goods and services. This means our skilled immigration system should be geared to ensure that the United States is a central hub in the many global supply chains that exist for ITI members. Like it or not, if the United States is to continue leading the global economy, we have to have an immigration system that provides sufficient green cards and H-1B visas to maximize the amount of work performed in our country because it creates new jobs in the process. We need to carefully consider how green cards and H-1B visas actually amplify the amount of work and jobs created in the United States, and understand how restricting green cards and visas can actually have the detrimental effect of moving work and jobs to other countries. A recent study concluded that out of ten leading global economies, the United States ranks second to last in being able to attract and retain global talent due to unfavorable immigration policies—a clear impediment to domestic growth.

Without a doubt, the technology sector looks to Congress to pass effective policies that would bring a long overdue upgrade to our skilled immigration system. Simultaneously, our sector recognizes the positive role it can play in addressing some of the surrounding issues. Many ITI members have stepped up and committed vast amounts of resources to advance STEM education in the United States – ranging from scholarship money for students pursuing STEM degrees, to donating hardware and software to classrooms, and enabling students and teachers to enhance their STEM skillsets. Last month, the White House announced the Computer Science for All Initiative, an ambitious program to expand computer science education across the country. Congress would do well to ensure this initiative receives the funding it rightfully deserves, and guarantee America’s global competitiveness for years to come.

Public Policy Tags: Workforce, Immigration