Needed: Skilled Immigrants

October 13, 2011

With a growing need for skilled workers in a poor economic environment, American corporations are forced to look increasingly to foreign countries.  While some argue that this growing tendency hurts Americans who would otherwise compete for those jobs, highly skilled foreign workers generally create employment opportunities for Americans at large.  There is almost no economic displacement of U.S. workers by highly skilled foreign workers.  Rather, the substantial technological and productive benefits of more highly skilled workers increase overall employment substantially, says Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

There are two primary means by which these workers can be brought to the United States: the first, an H-1B visa, is a three-year, once-renewable, employer-sponsored visa; the second is a standard green card.  However, burdensome regulations and policies have all but stunted this potential source of growth and have limited the ability to bring highly skilled foreign workers to the United States.

  • H-1B visa fees typically cost between $2,300 and $8,500, and additional legal fees can cost tens of thousands of dollars per worker.
  • The issuance of green cards is limited to an annual cap of only 140,000.
  • No more than 7 percent of green cards can go to recipients from a single country, which greatly hinders efforts to gain workers from burgeoning economies such as China and India.

In the case of H-1B visas, which were specifically designed to bring highly skilled workers to the United States, the cost of the aforementioned fees, along with troublesome workplace inspections, is clear: American businesses had taken advantage of only slightly more than half of the annually available 85,000 H-1B visas by September of this year.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of both of these pathways to employment, several reforms are needed.  For H-1B visas, fees ought to be lowered, inspections should be lessened or ended entirely, and they should no longer be employer-sponsored so as to allow employees flexibility in seeking employment.  For standard green cards, the overall cap of 140,000 needs to be drastically expanded, bureaucratic procedures should be more streamlined and the 7 percent rule ought to be eliminated.

Source: Alex Nowrasteh, "Needed: Skilled Immigrants," Investor's Business Daily, October 6, 2011.

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