Time to Raise the Cap on H1-B Visas

H1-B visas are an important tool in bringing new talent to the workforce in the United States.  Different from other immigration visas which often bring in low-skilled labor for farm and service-related work, these visas allow companies to bring temporary, high-skilled workers into the US to fill specialized roles that companies otherwise can’t fill.  About 90% of all H1-B visas go to these high-skilled workers.  Each year, there are only a certain amount of H1-B visas allotted for US companies to secure—meaning competition for them is fierce.  The lack of these visas, and the lack of these high-skilled workers, has become a real problem for many companies who deal with technology.

The effort to increase the number of visas is tied to the fate of the immigration bill and the negotiations surrounding it have been taking place in Washington over the past few months.  The passage of immigration reform is a top issue for many varied interests, including those in the high-tech sector.  There’s a major lack of specialized workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, making it very difficult to achieve the productivity that many companies try to achieve.  A new group called FWD.us, led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other tech leaders are lobbying on behalf of the bill.  They see the need in their own industry for major reform to bring new talent to the US workforce, and the loss of income and productivity because of it.

Having H1-B visa holders in the United States is good for the economy.  They earn more than their native-born counterparts, about $76,000 compared to $67,000, respectively, according to the Brookings Institution.  This increase in wages means that more money is being injected back into the economy, both through increased tax revenue and in spending power.  This increase in earnings power also shows that the jobs they’re filling are in-demand.  Companies wouldn’t go through the nightmare of dealing with bringing an immigrant to the US if they could hire a comparable US worker at a lower wage.

Immigration reform is an important step in ensuring that the US remains at the top of its game when it comes to high-tech manufacturing, innovation and job growth.

As the tech sector has been one of the driving forces powering our economy for many years, perhaps it’s time Congress listen.  An increase in high-skilled workers into the US is good for the economy all around—it’s good for businesses who get a fresh, educated workforce they can’t find otherwise, and it’s good for consumers because they get the products they desire—and it’s all produced in America.  A new study by the American Action Forum even suggests that immigration reform would reduce the federal debt by over $2.5 trillion, raising economic growth by almost a percentage point.  Economists, even conservative economists, are so confident that immigration reform would be a boon for the economy that 100 signed a letter to Congressional leaders imploring them for action.

Congress should work to come to an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, as lingering any longer could have a seriously detrimental effect on the country’s economic fate.  If jobs are being created and no one is filling them, we have a serious problem, one that will hold back the American economy for years to come. Congress should increase the cap on the number of H1-B visas provided to companies as soon as possible so American tech companies can get back to work doing what they do best.

Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

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