As of today, employers seeking to sponsor an H-1B employee for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 can begin filing petitions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If history is any indication, USCIS will shortly announce that the agency received enough petitions for new hires to meet the 65,000-annual statutory cap, as well as the additional 20,000 visas that are allocated for foreign professionals with a U.S. advanced degree.
This demand will once again prompt USCIS to conduct a computer-generated lottery to select petitions for the upcoming year, inevitably turning away critical workers essential to growing our economy and creating jobs for Americans workers. In seven out of the last ten fiscal years, the H-1B visa cap was reached within only five business days, and we have no reason to suspect that this year will be any different.
Once again, the tech sector’s need for high-skilled employees should not be underestimated. In 2016, there were approximately 3.3 million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) job openings posted online in the United States. By contrast, in the same year, our universities graduated 568,000 students with STEM degrees. To meet this demand, it is vital that we not only provide STEM education and training to more U.S. children, college students, and workers, but that we also ensure our immigration system enables employers to recruit top talent from American universities and from abroad. The H-1B visa allows us to attain the top talent around the world. The latest report published by USCIS on the H-1B program confirms that 70 percent of initial H-1B petitions approvals in FY2016 were issued for foreign-born professionals in tech occupations.
High-skilled immigrants make us stronger, not just as an industry, but as a country. Every year, these immigrants’ hard work and innovative ideas contribute to our economic dynamism, creating a cradle of innovation that fuels job growth in all corners of society and in all areas of the country. Just recently, a 2014 study found that for every young skilled immigrant worker hired, an additional 3.5 new workers were employed within the following 14 years as a direct result.
Yet, at a time when we should be attracting these much-needed workers and tapping into this human capital, both lawmakers’ inaction when it comes to reforming our outdated system and the current public debate around immigration, continue to work against us.
Already, we are witnessing unfavorable results. For example, earlier this year, the State Department announced that the number of visas issued to foreign students—who are crucial to helping close the skills shortage in the tech sector and across other industries—dropped precipitously, down 17 percent from the previous fiscal year and almost 40 percent from 2015.
Moreover, our competitors, including Canada and Mexico, are ready to seize on this opportunity and are implementing competitive policies in order to attract these tech professionals to work for companies located in their respective countries.
The time for action is now. We need Congress and the administration to support common sense high-skilled immigration policies such as the I-Squared Act, which reforms the H-1B and employment-based visa programs to better reflect the demands of today’s digital economy while also securing protections for American workers.
This week is yet another reminder that the global race for talent is on. And the United States needs to lace up before it is left in the dust.