The Economic and Moral Toll of Our Immigration Bureaucracy

July 9, 2015
In The News


One of the barriers to comprehensive immigration reform is the misguided belief that talented foreigners willing to work for less are taking jobs from American workers. To address this problem, some suggest that the number of H-1B visas that allow people with special skills to work here should be reduced. This argument is wrong.

If America is going to continue producing the largest and most innovative companies in the world, we need access to more talented workers, not fewer. Immigration is a complicated issue, but removing barriers for those who already have a willing employer should be comparatively simple.

If you talk to any entrepreneur, he or she will tell you the data agrees with their personal experience. Finding and retaining top talent is as difficult and competitive as ever: Forgivable loans, signing bonuses, stock incentives and bidding wars are often the new normal. This is a good thing for those lucky enough to be here already, but relying on labor shortages to keep wages high is fundamentally inefficient.

There’s ample evidence to suggest that bringing in great numbers of qualified workers would raise wages, not repress them. An often-cited statistic from a study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute found that every job created in the high-tech sector nets four more jobs spread out over the local economy. Critically, by reducing the number of high-skill visas, we don’t save jobs — we reduce them.

If America is going to continue producing the largest and most innovative companies in the world, we need access to more talented workers, not fewer.

Here in California, the problem is even more pronounced. LA-based Science, one of the city’s startup builders, is awash with young companies that are hiring people to fill all sorts of roles, not just engineers; two of these companies, SpringRole and FameBit, were both founded by recent immigrants working on H-1B visas. More than 76 percent of patents processed by the University of California in 2011 were held by at least one foreign-born inventor.


When you look at the founding teams of Google, Paypal, Yahoo, Tesla and Facebook, you see one thing in common: At least one immigrant. An immigrant is twice as likely as others to start their own businesses. This should come as no surprise — immigrants must save up, take risks and work extraordinarily hard just to come to the U.S. It’s hard to imagine better training for the determination and boldness it takes to be an effective business leader.

To ensure American competitiveness both now and in the future, we must make the entire process simpler and more compassionate. To start, we could peg the number of H-1Bs to GDP growth, as opposed to the arbitrary thresholds we use now, and we must think of a better system than to have cumbersome and inefficient lotteries that offer no rational assurance of getting visas. We must also work on expanding the number of green cards available to immigrants, and make it much easier for foreign-born students to stay in the country, start a business and create American jobs.

It is evident that Congress is failing our businesses with a broken immigration system that erects barriers to recruiting new talent and undermines our global competitiveness. Failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform also keeps millions of people in the shadows and incentivizes an underground economy. In order to ensure the longevity of our nation’s economic success, we need to create policies that harness human potential and empower our businesses and job creators, not hinder them.

America’s immigrant population has been a cornerstone of our success, and there is no doubt that access to the world’s best and brightest is part of why we enjoy such prosperity today. Retaining that advantage demands that we continue to be a country that attracts top talent. If America is going to compete in the 21st century, we need comprehensive immigration reform now and one element of that reform needs to be improving America’s ability to provide a workforce that employers need.