In the National Interest: High-Skill Immigration Reform
Before the August congressional recess, key Senators anticipated
thatan immigration reform bill will be ready for the Senate to considerthis fall. Given that congressional action on immigration could startsoon, it is time again to highlight why the U.S. needs a smartimmigration reform that considers high-skilled immigrants’ contributions to the economy
High-skilledimmigrants have been the lifeblood of entrepreneurial companies thathave transformed entire industries and the ways we do things, creatingtremendous wealth and valuable jobs during the process. Think, forexample, of Vinod Khosla of India and Andreas von Bechtolsheim of Germany, the co-founders of Sun Microsystems;Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin; Jerry Yang, theTaiwanese-born co-founder of Yahoo; and Andrew S. Grove of Hungary, whohelped found Intel. In fact, just over half the companies founded inSilicon Valley from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s were started byentrepreneurs born abroad, according to immigration scholar Vivek Wadhwa. Across the nation, over a quarter of technology companies had immigrant founders or co-founders. There are many other strong pieces of evidence in favor of more highly-educated immigrants.
Nevertheless,U.S. policies have been discouraging high-skilled immigrant’scontributions to the economy. In 1990, Congress, reflecting on thegrowing importance of technology, set aside 65,000 H-1B visas forskilled workers. The limit was raised twice since: to 115,000 in 1999and to 195,000 in 2001. However, the number of H-1B visas laterreverted to 65,000, with an additional 20,000 H1-B’s for people withgraduate degrees from U.S. universities. The H-1B visa process has beenplagued with backlogs resulting from this quota.The process for permanent visas has in turn become convoluted, costlyand discouraging. As a result, high-skilled immigrants are looking for opportunities elsewhere in an increasingly competitive global labor market, taking their innovative ideas with them.
America’sheritage as a nation of immigrants has been the backbone and source foreconomic strength and U.S. science innovation. I hope policymakers willseriously consider eliminating annual caps on H1-B visas and creatingclear incentives for high-skilled immigrants to stay here. U.S.immigration policies should strengthen America’s entrepreneurialenvironment by protecting knowledge workers – for the benefit of all.
JonathanOrtmans is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation where he focuseson public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and aroundthe world. In addition, he serves as president of the Public ForumInstitute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogueon important policy issues.