H1-B Visas: American Innovation Hinges on a Chance for the Best and Brightest

Earlier today, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the agency has received enough H-1B petitions to meet the total statutory cap of 85,000 visas allotted under law for fiscal year (FY) 2018.

This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the visa cap was reached within days of USCIS accepting petitions for the upcoming year, demonstrating both the necessity and limitations of the current immigration system. For example, USCIS received 236,000 H-1B petitions for FY2017, surpassing the record breaking total for FY2016 by 3,000 petitions.

Once again, the agency will be forced to turn away some of the best and brightest people we need to create new technologies and grow our economy. Instead, they will be welcomed elsewhere to compete against the United States.

It goes without saying that a healthy innovation ecosystem requires access to talent to flourish. Tech companies—of all sizes, from top brands to the most promising startup—rely on the ability to recruit and retain the most qualified individuals from across the world to innovate, grow, create jobs, and compete globally.

Unfortunately, in the United States, supply does not currently meet demand.

Recent studies by the New American Economy (NAE) found that last year alone there were over 3.3 million open science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs posted online. Moreover, today, it is estimated that there are over half a million open computing jobs across the country. However, in 2015, U.S. universities only graduated 92,172 computer scientists and a quarter of those, 24 percent, were foreign students.

This is not just a challenge for companies in Silicon Valley. This a national problem. The situation is even more dire for employers in rural states who confront a much larger STEM shortage than the rest of the country.

Looking ahead, the U.S. digital economy, which grew two percent in 2016, will only continue to flourish and further accelerate the demand for qualified talent. Many ITI member companies are already actively working to reverse our STEM shortage, investing tens of millions of dollars in programs designed to help educate and prepare students, and to train American workers with the skills they need to pursue tech jobs. Still, the tech industry cannot wait because innovation moves at the speed of light, and to keep advancing and competing around the world, we rely on H-1B visas to help fill our countless, immediate vacancies.

Furthermore, we need to recognize the value H-1B employees contribute through their ingenuity to our innovation ecosystem—they help innovate and grow America’s tech economy. In fact, it’s been estimated that over 230,000 more computer jobs would have been created for U.S. workers if the talented people denied H-1B visas in 2007 and 2008 had been welcomed to innovate here in our country, instead of by our competitors overseas.

Today’s USCIS announcement once again underscores the limitations of our high-skilled immigration system, whose dysfunction continues to fail us rather than work for us.

Innovation is the name of the game and the race is on for talent. Governments around the globe recognize effective immigration policy leads to increased economic competitiveness, and look to shift the innovation hub from the United States to their respective countries. The United States can—and must—do better, especially if we are going to maintain our leadership in this space.

Policymakers need to remember: good paying tech jobs will not go unfilled; it is better that we fill these openings here at home, instead of sending tech jobs overseas. The Trump Administration and Congress should take this opportunity to pass meaningful high-skilled immigration reform.

Without thoughtful action, we will continue to jeopardize the growth and competitiveness of our tech sector and overall economy.

Public Policy Tags: Immigration