America needs a 21st century immigration policy
From members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness
President Obama’s recent focus on immigration highlights America’s “broken” system and its impact on our economy. Fixing it requires Republicans and Democrats to show political courage and implement reforms to expand and strengthen the American economy. As members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, we share his deep concern that our nation’s ability to compete economically is being damaged by the two parties battling over immigration laws and policies.
To some, the link between immigration reform and economic growth may be surprising. To America’s most innovative industries, it is a link we know is fundamental.
The global economy means companies that drive U.S. job creation and economic growth are in a worldwide competition for talent. While other countries are aggressively creating policies and incentives to attract a highly educated workforce, America has stagnated. Once a magnet for the world’s top minds, America now faces a “reverse brain drain” and is no longer the first choice for many entrepreneurs creating new companies and jobs.
America needs a pro-growth immigration system that works for U.S. workers and employers in today’s global economy. And we need it now.
First, we need to invest in homegrown talent that is educated and trained in the critical science, technology, engineering and math fields. The U.S. education system must be improved, top to bottom, so that our most precious resource – our children – can compete in the increasingly global world economy. Statistically our K-12 students are falling farther behind students in Korea, China and elsewhere in the physical sciences. We can and must do better.
Second, the United States must allow employers to recruit and retain the world’s best brains. We need a pro-growth based green card system to replace the current system that is plagued with years-long backlogs. Waiting a decade or more during the H1B specialty visa and green card process demoralizes the next great American immigrant Nobel laureate. More of them are returning to their home countries, like China and India, and driving new scientific breakthroughs and innovations there.
Third, we should staple a green card to every advanced diploma in critical fields to keep foreign-born students graduating from a U.S. university or college here in America, working for our future. Today foreign nationals account for 50% of master’s degrees and 70% of Ph.D. degrees in electrical and electronic engineering in the U.S. Yet, our antiquated immigration laws numerically limit the numbers of these individuals, by the thousands, from entering our country annually. What kind of strategy is it to train the world’s best and brightest in our great universities – and then require them to leave?
America’s cutting-edge job creating industries – from computing to biotech – rely on immigrant scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to remain competitive. And as the President said in his speech, they are responsible for founding iconic companies like Google, Yahoo and eBay.
According to a Kauffman Foundation study, 40 million jobs have been created in the past 25 years by high growth U.S. entrepreneurial companies. Of those, according to a Duke and UC Berkeley report, more than a quarter of U.S. technology and engineering businesses launched between 1995 and 2005 had a foreign-born founder. And in 2005, companies created by immigrants produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers, so getting this right is paramount.
Silicon Valley offers a good example of the impact foreign nationals make on U.S. innovation – and the arduous process companies must go through to retain them. With 80% of Intel R&D conducted in the U.S., employing people with specific expertise in U.S. facilities is imperative. Right now, there are software engineers in the UK, who cannot come to work in a U.S. Intel facility until visas are available in the next fiscal year. And experts in next-generation mobile technology who must remain in Finland, rather than joining an Intel research and development team in the U.S.
At Facebook, Javier Olivan was instrumental in creating the technology that has translated the site into more than 70 languages, connecting people and businesses in the U.S. with markets around the world. Despite making a significant contribution to economic growth, Javier was lucky to be able to stay in this country. The year he applied for an H-1B visa, there were 150,000 applicants and only 65,000 visas.
U.S. employers must look ahead to coming talent shortages and plan their workforce needs years in advance. They need policy certainty from Washington to know they will be able to hire the very best talent to meet the demands of the global innovation marketplace. It is time for Congress and the Administration to pass bi-partisan immigration reforms. In particular, taking quick action to attract and retain science and engineering talent is critical to the growth of our economy.
Let’s create a pro-growth immigration system that works. Our global competitiveness should not be a partisan debate, it should be a top American priority.
The writers, Steve Case, CEO of Revolution, John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers ; Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel Corporation, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, are members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.