How the Technology Sector is Affected By Immigration Politics

According to Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute, more comprehensive immigration reform is needed in order to bolster the US economy.  Nowrasteh believes that the current attempts at reform do not address the problems with immigration bureaucracy and do not allow more skilled workers to enter the US.

A number of recent bills do seem to address the issue of skilled labor shortages in the US. Texas Rep. Lamar Smith introduced plans to get rid of the diversity visa program, and instead offer the 55 000 green cards from that program to foreign students graduating from US universities. That proposed legislation failed to pass the House. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York also recently proposed legislation, to increase the number of permanent residencies available for skilled graduates.

In addition to reforms to the green card process, some have suggested changes to H-1B visas. Which allow US companies to hire skilled employees from outside the US on a temporary basis. About 85,000 employees a year are hired on H-1B visas, according to Nowrasteh. About half of these workers work in the computer industry, while the other half work in a variety of industries, including technology, science, engineering, and mathematics.

These high-skilled sectors are currently facing a worker shortage in the US, which is why Nowrasteh and others are eager to see solutions that would bring in more qualified workers. In the past ten years, the number of employment opportunities in these industries have expanded three times faster than the number of jobs in all other industries. In many cases, it is foreign workers who are filling the needs in these industries. According to Nowrasteh, 25% of physical scientists, 27% of mathematicians and computer scientists, and 35% of engineers in the US are not US-born.

However, Nowrasteh is quick to note that foreign workers in these fields do not harm US jobs and may even improve US wages. Companies are required to hire US workers as well as H1-B workers and according to Nowrasteh smaller companies hiring H-1B employees have a ratio of one H-1B worker to 5-7 US workers.  H-1B employees are brought in to allow for expanding production.

Despite a need for skilled workers, however, Nowrasteh and others note that the US is not doing enough to allow needed workers to enter the US. H-1B visa caps are reached very quickly and despite requests from Silicon Valley there have been no moves to significantly increase the number of these visas available. In addition, under the stimulus program, bailed-out companies were not allowed to hire H-1B employees. Recently, the fees for H-1B workers from India were doubled in order to generate funds for border security measures, a move that made it harder for skilled computer employees from India to work in the US.