NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 1, 2008

Created in 1990, H1-B visas allow companies to sponsor highly educated foreigners -- architects, doctors, engineers, scientists among them -- to work in the United States for at least three years.  The H1-B program, which accounts for nearly all skilled immigrants admitted to work here each year, is capped annually at 65,000 for people with a bachelor's degree or higher, plus an additional 20,000 for those with a master's degree or higher.  Unfortunately, this supply is not even close to meeting market demand, says Mathew J. Slaughter, associate dean and professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University.

  • Last year, by the afternoon of the first day petitions were accepted, more than 150,000 had been filed.
  • So the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected all petitions received after close of business the next day and then allocated the 85,000 visas via random lottery.
  • USCIS is forecasting a similar crush today for 2009 petitions.

Skilled immigrants have long contributed to rising U.S. standards of living.  They bring human capital, brimming with ideas for new technologies and new companies.  They bring financial capital as well, with savings and resources to develop these new ideas.  And they often bring connections to business opportunities abroad, stimulating exports and affiliate sales for multinational companies, says Slaughter:

  • At the end of the 1990s, 24 percent of all information technology (IT) firms in Silicon Valley had been founded by immigrants from China or India.
  • The number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. science and engineering workforce has nearly quintupled since 1980 while the foreign-born share of doctorate-level workers rose to 42 percent today from 24 percent in 1990.

Nonetheless, leading U.S. companies today are crying out for more immigrants to satisfy their talent needs.  And they do so as globalization gives companies an ever-wider range of locations abroad in which to operate.  Increasingly, talent needs that cannot be met in America can be met abroad -- much to the detriment of the U.S. economy, says Slaughter.

Source: Matthew J. Slaughter, "The Immigrant Gap," Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2008.

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