To Thrive, U.S. Needs Skilled Immigrants

With the health care debate on temporary hiatus, the government’s attention will turn to the next topic: immigration reform.

Most of the attention will be focused on the much maligned amnesty issue but the plight of highly skilled foreign temporary workers and immigrants will be ignored and the labor demands of U.S. firms will go unsatisfied.

Beginning on April 1st, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will begin accepting applications for the highly skilled H-1B visas.

Under that visa, the law admits 85,000 foreign high skilled and U.S.-trained workers under a 6-year company sponsored work visa. The chaos caused by issuing so few visas will be on full display when applications begin to flood USCIS.

On April 1st, 2007 133,000 applications were filed! On April 1st, 2008 history repeated itself. On the same date in 2009, though fewer application were filed due to the recession, eventually all the spots were filled.

Many talented individuals and companies skipped the H-1B application altogether because of the bureaucratic hoops put in their way and many more talented workers were denied opportunities.

Skilled workers on H-1Bs and other skilled permanent immigrants are rarely seen and hardly ever the topic of public policy debates.

But when they are mentioned they are smeared by restrictionists who want to close the border and prevent foreigners, no matter their skills or the benefits, from moving to America.

The most persistent and incorrect argument against high skilled foreign workers is that they take American jobs. There is no fixed number to be divided amongst us. Jettisoning this piece of flawed thinking is essential to understanding the role that immigrants play in the economy.

The non-partisan National Foundation for American Policy recently reported that for every H-1B position requested, U.S. technology firms increase their employment by five workers. That is because firms only hire H-1B applications when they are expanding .

Foreign skilled workers don’t "take" Americans’ jobs, they complement Americans’ jobs. Foreigners are imperfect substitutes for U.S.-born workers even when they have the same education and experience.

Foreign workers generally choose different occupations and have different skills and experience compared to native workers.

Then there’s the argument that H-1Bs are foreign slaves hired to decrease American wages. If that was true then applications for H-1B visas would increase during recessions as businesses want to cut costs. Of course, the opposite is true. H-1B applications fall precipitously during recessions.

The 1996 welfare reform act prohibited federal welfare payments for people with work visas. H-1B workers are typically male, young and healthy.

American social programs are designed to assist the elderly, women and the sick. Relative to the population and to their own age and demographic group, immigrants and H-1B visa holder under-consume all social services.

Of the roughly 31 million immigrants over the age of 25 in 2008, 14.5 million have at least some college education.

H-1B visa applicants are very similar to this group of new Americans. This group does not commit crimes, they create businesses, they speak English, and they contribute to America’s economy and culture.

We shouldn’t waste scarce security resources chasing down every Indian, Chinese, or Irish computer programmer who wants to make a life in the U.S.

It’s time we reform the present system which only punishes those trying to enter legally, especially when it comes to highly skilled immigrants and those applying for a temporary H-1B visa.

On April 1st and in the coming months many H-1B applicants and their prospective American employers will be disappointed. Thousands of intelligent, hard working, and educated foreigners will be denied opportunities due to our Byzantine immigration system.

All of the arguments against high skilled workers, in the form of permanent immigrants or temporary workers, are without merit. Congress and the administration should prop the door wide open for them.