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Proposal: Keep Talent in the US: High-Skill Immigration Policies for the 21st Century

America's outdated visa program forces too many foreign STEM students to leave the country after they graduate. Other countries lure them for their expertise and value, even though there are far more STEM jobs in the US than can be filled by US-born college graduates. Hiring foreign STEM workers who graduated from US universities actually adds jobs for US STEM workers, increases wages for US natives, and improves our global competitiveness.

If you want a high-skilled immigration program that helps the US economy, then explore one way to help solve the problem.

The Issue

Problem Defined

When it comes to retaining foreign-born STEM talent, the US ranks second to last amongst developed nations. 

Home to many of the best universities in the world, the US is a magnet for top talent from abroad. However, the current H-1B visa program is burdened by costly bureaucratic procedures and offers far fewer visas than our economy demands. This makes it unnecessarily difficult for foreign students to stay and work once they graduate, wasting our competitive advantage.

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What is the H-1B visa?MORE

The H-1B visa is designed to provide a timely process for US businesses to hire foreign-born professionals in speciality occupations, particularly the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. 

To ensure that businesses are not hiring foreign-born workers to drive down wages, salary and terms and conditions must be the same for them as those of Americans in similar occupations. The foreign professionals must have a four-year advanced degree (a bachelor's degree or its equivalent). 

Current laws set this visa program at a 65,000 cap for new H-1B workers each year, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign workers with a master's or higher degree from a US university. 

Usually, H-1B visas are valid for two or three years, with a six-year maximum total stay in the US. 

US STEM workers are increasingly scarceMORE

It is expected that about 2.6 million jobs will have opened for STEM workers between 2010 and 2020, constituting the fastest growth of any field.

However, by 2018, the US will face a projected shortfall of 223,800 workers in STEM fields. While there will be 779,000 STEM job openings that year, only 555,200 US workers will be qualified to fill them. 

***CONSULT EXPERTS*** Census data show that only about 19% of US-born students complete a bachelor's degree program in a core STEM field, a rate roughly 1/2 of that found in many developed nations. 

(Another reason for this shortage is that many Americans who study STEM end up working in non-STEM jobs. This is not because there is a lack of STEM opportunities, but because many Americans find job opportunities in other, non-STEM fields. ------ WAIT ON EXPERTS' FEEDBACK)

Costly and inefficient system for businesses and entrepreneurs MORE

While the H-1B provides many necessary safeguards to protect American STEM workers, it has much room for improvement. Many businesses are not able to get the talent they need. Between average wait times of 250 days and filing costs, hiring foreign-born workers is a tedious and burdensome process. 

(COULD THIS BE A VISUAL? -- gameboard possibly) -- 7 steps (for US company) from page 16, and 6 steps (for entrepreneur) from page 17 in proposal. 

High-skilled foreign workers fill need in a wide-range of industries MORE

In 2013, the Census Bureau found that all 14 major sectors of the US economy, including agriculture, education, mining, and transportation, need STEM workers.

As a share of STEM employment by industry for the years 2009-2011, immigrants made up 32.5% in Education, 29.6% in Finance/Insurance/Real Estate, 24.9% in Manufacturing, 28.6% in Healthcare, and 12.9% in Public Administration.  

Foreign, highly skilled workers benefit the US economy & create American jobsMORE

In a report issued by the The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Partnership for a New American Economy, a study of American Census data during a sample period of 2001–2010 shows that adding 100 H-1B workers results in an additional 183 jobs for US citizens in the state where the former are hired.

Between 2000 and 2007, employing 100 foreign-born high-skilled workers trained at US universities resulted in an additional 262 jobs for US-born workers, at the state level. While it may seem counterintuitive, this happens because many H-1B visa holders are taking jobs that are hard for US companies to fill, instead of competing with US born workers for the same pool of jobs. The increased productivity of companies with access to H-1B labor allows them to grow, paving the way for managerial and leadership roles for US born workers. 

H-1B visas have a positive impact on wages overallMORE

A nationwide study of 219 cities, by The National Bureau of Economic Research, found that H-1B-driven increases in STEM workers were associated with wage increases of 7 to 8% for college-educated native-born workers.

Providing more H-1B visas keeps US businesses innovativeMORE

A 10% growth in a company's H-1B population translates into a 3.3% increase in the number of patents awarded to the company.

In 2011, over 75% of patents awarded to the top 10 US patent-producing universities had at least one foreign-born inventor.

Foreign-born workers help US businesses sustain innovation and remain ahead of global competitors. 

H-1B workers complement, rather than displace, US workers MORE

There are more STEM jobs than Americans who can fill them. Employers who hire H-1B workers are filling job vacancies, not displacing American workers with cheaper foreign labor.

Since foreign-born and US-born workers typically specialize in different yet complemetary roles, hiring immigrants often raises wages for US-born STEM workers. As foreigners fill the more technical or lower-level jobs, US-born employees are able to attain managerial and leadership roles.

STEM fields with high percentages of foreign-born workers have low unemployment rates for native workers, often significantly lower than the national rate. 

The US is falling behind its global competitors in attracting talentMORE

According to a recent survey of developed countries, the US ranked second to last in terms of welcoming skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs. 

While the US rejects the majority of highly-skilled immigrant worker visas because of quotas, other countries such as Germany, Australia, Canada, and Singapore have no caps, low levels of intracompany transfer visa rejections, and a clear path to legal permanent residency.

Go deeper
Understanding and Improving the H-1B Visa Program

CompeteAmerica, Partnership for a New American Economy, US Chamber of Commerce - (2015)


Part 1 of the briefing presents data on how scarcity in STEM slows economic growth, and how the H-1B visa program grows the economy and creates American jobs. Part 2 focuses on understanding how the H-1B system currently works, including employer recruitment guidelines and how they use H-1Bs. 

Expert Authors

The Compete America coalition is the leading advocate for reform of U.S. immigration policy for highly educated foreign professionals. Our members include corporations, universities, research institutions and trade association

The Partnership for a New American Economy brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today.

The US Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation, representing the interests of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations, and dedicated to promoting, protecting, and defending America’s free enterprise system.

Giovanni Bruna
Junior Analyst - TheChisel by More Perfect Union

The Solution

Proposed Actions
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Passing the Immigration Innovation Act ("I-Squared") (S.153) would increase the number of H-1B visasMORE

"I-Squared" legislation, introduced in the Senate in January of 2015, would enhance our high-skilled immigration system. This means that it would be responsive to the fluctuations of the US market: the legislation would create a market-based escalator and de-escalator for H-1Bs. 

This escalator automatically adjusts the number of available visas depending on demand. As explained in the bill, if the new proposed cap of 115,000 is reached within the first 45 days, an additional 20,000 H-1B visas would be made available. The number of additional visas is scaled down if it takes longer to reach the cap (15,000 more visas become available if the cap is met on the 60th day, 10,000 if on the 90th, or 5,000 if on the 275th). If the cap is not reached by the end of the fiscal year, the following year’s cap is reduced by the number of visas left unused from the previous year. 

(S.153  also establishes a reliable means for foreign STEM students to stay after earning a US graduate degree-- so long as the foreign worker meets all of the existing law requirements to have a job offer, the hiring company is subject to a Labor Certification request, and where approval has been granted for an Immigrant Visa Petition. It would also improve policies for worker mobility so that foreign workers can move within their company.......CAN WE DELETE THIS??)

Make it easier for foreign students stay in the US and work after graduationMORE

(S.153 also establishes a reliable means for foreign STEM students to stay after earning a US graduate degree-- so long as the foreign worker meets all of the existing law requirements to have a job offer, the hiring company is subject to a Labor Certification request, and where approval has been granted for an Immigrant Visa Petition. It would also improve policies for worker mobility so that foreign workers can move within their company.)


If there aren't enough qualified Americans to fill an open job, a foreign student with a US advanced degree who has a job offer should be able to stay and contribute to the economic success of the company, benefitting the overall US economy.

Highly skilled foreign-born STEM workers may account for up to a quarter of productivity growth in the country over the last 20 years. For this reason we must stop turning these workers away on the basis of quotas. 

Avoid involving the Department of Labor in hiring decisions MORE

By requiring the employers hiring H-1Bs to verify and document payment of fair market salaries and identical terms and conditions as those provided to American workers, Congress currently ensures the hiring process is solely based on both the foreign worker's skills and the company's needs. 

Since each hiring decision is based on a range of personal factors, further oversight by the Department of Labor is therefore, neither practical nor advisable. 

Help fund STEM education at homeMORE

Fund STEM education in the US by increasing the fees for obtaining both an H-1B and an employment based green card.

Expected Results
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Increased H-1B visa numbers would generate more than $100 billion in revenueMORE

A similar bill that the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of during the 113th Congress also pushed for high-skilled immigration reform, making it a good indicator of the impact of H-1B reform. 

The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation found that increasing H-1B visas would result in over $100 billion in revenue (2014-2024) and reduce budget deficits. 

New jobs created for American workers MORE

Foreign workers who received H-1B visas from 2010-2013 will create more than 700,000 jobs for U.S.-born workers by 2020. 

Budget Impact

According to the Congressional Budget Office, increasing H-1B visa numbers would generate more than $100 billion in revenue over the 2014-2024 period. 

Net Present Value

The Conversation

Tseren Zurganov
Junior Policy Analyst
4 years ago
What exactly falls under the category of STEM?

Are physicians and economists considered STEM workers?

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