America needs a 21st century immigration policy

By Guest Contributor
May 19, 2011

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.



We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I’ve worked in the semiconductor research field for many years, at both a leading university and a large corporation. Over the last three decades there has been a shift away from American students and workers to foreign born. I have watched the most highly qualified, top American PhD graduates find it difficult to get a good position, leaving for places like Singapore. The makeup of PhD students is now Chinese, Indian, Korean, but only a small percentage American.

The salaries have declined along with the influx of cheap foreigners, whose highest priority is being being paid with a green card: “Whatever I can get in the US, I’ll take.”

Americans already have citizenship and therefore cannot be quite as easily abused, choosing to get out of the field after they’ve experienced how disposable they are.

Similarly, when immigrants become established and expect more pay and recognition, they’re also let go in favor of the millions of newer, cheaper, and more easily abused fresh foreigner, who are always available. These are not the world’s “best and brightest,” and are only here because the industry chews people up and spits them out at a high rate.

How can we ask our own best and brightest to go into a situation like this?

Posted by rscottking | Report as abusive

What a bunch of garbage. Millions of skilled American workers looking for a job and we need more immigrant workers? H1-B’s are gifted? For the most part they are not any better or worse than native born workers and are here only to drive wages down.

Mr. Obama, I am a Democrat and I voted for you but I will not again. You have shown here that you are 100% bought off by the corporate scumbags who have destroyed this country!

Posted by Thisisnonsense2 | Report as abusive

Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California said the following during the October 3, 2000 debate in the House debate on the H1-B visa. He seems to have gotten it mostly right:


Mr. Speaker,

I rise in strong opposition to this legislation. This legislation is nothing more than a betrayal of American working people. Why should we bring in 240,000 foreigners in order to depress the wages in the United States of America ? That is exactly what we are talking about here.


There are enough Americans to do these jobs. The only thing that is lacking is the pay levels and the training. So instead of requiring our companies to train people to do these high-tech jobs who are unemployed now, like laid-off aerospace industries, or to pay a little bit more money to attract our kids coming out of school, no, instead we are going to bring in 240,000 foreigners to keep wages low.


In times of prosperity if you believe in free enterprise, that is when wages are supposed to go up. But if we bring in 240,000 foreigners to take these good, high-paying tech jobs, those high-paying jobs which are now $60,000 that should go to 70 or $80,000 will stay at that level. What this bill does is, number one, betray our own people who are out of work who need that training, need those jobs, that are 50 years old; but the Bill Gates billionaires of the world would rather bring in foreigners and not have to pay for the training and not have to pay perhaps for the health benefits of someone who is a lot younger.


We should not be subsidizing these billionaire high-tech companies and these billionaires who have made money up in the Silicon Valley .


They should pay their workers more money, they should train them and, yes, let us have an incentive for more of our young people to go into these high-tech companies and high-tech skill areas.


If we keep wages low, our students are not going to be attracted to these hightech areas. But if we let wages increase as the market would suggest, we will have our students go in that direction to try to get those jobs.


For someone who believes in the market and supposedly the Republicans believe in the market, this bill is a betrayal of our principles but a betrayal of America’s working people. Let us not bring in 240,000 foreigners to take jobs that could be done by Americans if they had the training and the pay levels to get those jobs.

Posted by n6532l | Report as abusive

So much emotion and ignorance here. Ask yourself these questions and THINK rationally before you spew forth more vitriol.

- Intel, Microsoft, Facebook: These are the most profitable companies in the world. Why would they hire “cheap”, inferior talent and try to save a few bucks in the short term? Capitalism economy dictates that they find the best tradeoff between cost and quality which they do. It is not rational to reject a “well-qualified American-born” engineer for a “garbage H1-B” to save say 10-20K/year.

- Do you know how much of a hassle and expense it is for the company to hire a H1-B and go through the GC process? Why do these companies do it if they could find qualified “American-born” engineers?

- H1-Bs are not McJobs. Most earn 6 figure incomes and pay taxes and SS/Medicare. Send them back, the job goes back with them (“outsourced”) and poof goes the tax revenue and their spending in the US. You really want that in this economic climate, don’t you?

- Most American kids lack the aptitude for Math/Science and think it is dorky. The reason most kids don’t go into engineering is that it is hard. It is not dictated by the thought of job prospects after graduation and competition with H1-Bs. What freshman has even heard of a H1-B?

I could go on but most of what I said would probably fall on deaf ears of the sourpusses above.

“white Americans, what?
nothing better to do?
why don’t you kick yourself out
you’re an immigrant too”

-The White Stripes

Posted by mister_x | Report as abusive

So with a real unemployment rate hovering around 24% (more than at any time since the Great Depression) President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness comes up with the ingenius idea of bringing in even more Indians on the H1b visa to replace “stupid, unskilled” US citizens.

What can you say except treachery?

Obama has shown that he has sold out the American people to moneyed interests every bit as much as any other politician.
He will not be getting my vote.
Nor will any Republican.

I am a computer science major with over 13 years experience but corporations like Microsoft would much prefer to hire a 24 year old Indian right out of college from India over me !
They and all those other corporations won’t even respond to my resume. Yet the President’s Council’s only imperative is to allow these corporations to hire even more of them?

Unreal !

Posted by Multi123 | Report as abusive