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As Congress returns to Washington in a few days, no more pressing issue faces leaders in the House of Representatives than immigration reform. In 1990, Congress recognized how important immigration was to our economy and passed the Immigration Act of 1990. This law created a new visa category tied to U.S. job creation. Yet over time, the number of these visas for high-skilled workers began to fill up quickly as our innovation economy continued to grow. As a result, the limits set by Congress on high-skilled visas are preventing jobs creation in America today.
Congress must act this year to end the visa crisis and stop the loss of jobs that we are experiencing.
For years, economists have argued that closing the door to high-skilled immigrants hurts the American economy. Starting today, people can see it for themselves.
Compete America, a coalition of America’s top tech companies, universities and trade associations, is unveiling the “Jobs Loss Calculator” on our website at www.competeamerica.org. The calculator will keep track in real time of how the H-1B Visa crisis is preventing the creation of new American jobs. Every 43 seconds, the calculator will add a new job lost because of the visa crisis. This is the first time in the history of the immigration debate that ordinary citizens will be able to visually see how the visa problem is impacting the entire economy.
Here is the basic problem: The H-1B program for legal skilled immigration imposes a cap of 85,000 visas annually, yet the American economy needs many more scientists and engineers. In fact, last year in 2013, approximately 124,000 applications for H-1B Visas were received and the application process was closed after just four days. In other words, after just four days, America’s most innovative businesses were no longer able to hire the talent they need to grow their companies. The process will start on April 1, which is around the corner.
And that’s bad news for all Americans because the research shows that these high-skilled workers create jobs for Americans. Dr. Matthew Slaughter, an economist at Dartmouth College, has studied this issue for years and found that there is a huge number of jobs lost to the American economy when we close the door on high-skilled immigrants. As he puts it, “The cost is foregone jobs created in and even beyond the companies demanding these talented workers. . . . It is well documented that companies that cannot hire talented immigrants either don’t hire anyone at all or hire people overseas—neither of which is optimal for the companies themselves or for America overall.”
So how serious is the impact on the creation of American jobs? Very serious. Slaughter’s calculation estimates that for every immigrant hired at an American company, another four employees are added as well. This is based on researching companies like Microsoft where Bill Gates has said in sworn testimony to Congress that an average of four additional employees are hired for every immigrant hired. The reason is simple: High-skilled scientists and engineers create so much innovation and work that additional jobs must be created to complement and support their efforts. Other studies have indicated that number of additional jobs created by each high-skilled immigrant could be as high as 7.5.
For the Compete America Jobs Loss Calculator, we used the conservative number of four jobs lost for every one high-skilled immigrant who can’t get a visa. So if there are 185,000 applicants for H-1B Visas this year, that would mean 100,000 won’t be able to come work in America. Then another 400,000 jobs would be lost since these engineers and scientists won’t be around to create additional jobs in the supply chain. In short, a conservative estimate is that America will lose 500,000 jobs this year because of an immigration policy that needs to be reformed.
It is time to take action. There is widespread agreement among both parties and in both chambers of Congress that high-skilled immigration is good for the economy. Now, for the first time, we have visual evidence that capping high-skilled visas is costing America hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Congress needs to act now. The House of Representatives should take up legislation like the bipartisan SKILLS Act today and increase the number of H-1B Visas available. Until then, we will keep tracking the number of jobs lost on our website. And as the clock shows, American workers literally can’t wait another minute for Congress to act on immigration reform.
Scott Corley serves as executive director of Compete America, a coalition of technology companies, universities and trade associations that advocates for reform of U.S. immigration policy for highly educated foreign professionals.