As a business leader from a Silicon Valley high-tech company, I was overjoyed to learn that the U.S. Senate had approved immigration reform including high-skilled worker provisions on a strong bipartisan basis. This legislation, I believe, is a significant step forward, and I hope that the House will take action soon.
But, for me, this is no academic exercise. Immigration reform is close to my heart because, like many before me, I came to this country to seek out opportunity and realize the American dream.
I came to this country at age 22 with just $100 in my pocket on a student visa to continue my studies in chemical engineering at Cornell University. Thirty years later, I feel incredibly fortunate to have established my career and family in America. I’m proud to have helped create thousands of jobs, contribute to innovations in the technology industry and helped make one of the nation’s biggest technology companies — Cisco — stronger, more competitive and more nimble.
But my story is by no means unique. There are many others like me who have come to this country because of the belief in the opportunities that this nation provides. And in return, they have made substantial contributions to their communities, technology development and to our economy.
The simple truth is that America continues to attract the best, brightest and most ambitious from around the world.
Yet, instead of welcoming these skilled workers to our shores, our flawed immigration system turns people away or places them in an endless bureaucracy, filled with red tape that often lasts nearly a decade.
This reality harms our economy and deprives the United States of the talent and innovation that every economy needs to grow and prosper. In effect, this has left places from California to the Carolinas starved for talent and less able to compete, while other nations — like Canada, China and India — welcome high-skilled workers with open arms.
Today, the technology industry employs 6 million people, with jobs in every state. Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but American students are not entering these fields in sufficient numbers. Research by the Partnership for a New American Economy and Partnership for New York City predicts that by 2018, the U.S. will face a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers.
The fact is that U.S. tech companies like ours are eager and want to hire American workers. However, the shortfall is significant and the H-1B program helps to fill the shortage of workers in STEM fields.
Highly skilled immigrants have made and will continue to make great contributions to the U.S. economy and help create American jobs. The Kauffmann Foundation examined engineering and technology companies started in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012. The study found that nearly a quarter of these companies had at least one key founder who was foreign-born, and in Silicon Valley, this number was even higher at 43 percent. Over the same period of time, these companies employed roughly 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion in revenues.
The good news is that Congress appears ready to tackle the problem. The immigration bill approved by the Senate:
· Reforms the broken and bureaucratic green card system, reducing the backlog and making the system more fair;
· Doubles the number of H-1Bs, to help meet the skills gap; and
· Contains strong protections for American workers, to ensure that they aren’t displaced or have their salaries undermined.
As Congress continues working on this important comprehensive immigration bill, it’s essential we get this right. A welcoming nation made my dreams possible, and smart immigration policies can make our economy even stronger in the years ahead.
Padmasree Warrior is Cisco’s chief technology & strategy officer.