Adopt Talent-Oriented Immigration Policies

Faced with fierce international competition to devise the products and services of tomorrow, companies are constantly seeking access to workers with cutting-edge skills. While many of the world’s top scientists, researchers, and engineers are U.S. citizens, others are not.

Most advanced degrees awarded by U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are to foreign nationals. The National Science Board estimates that the number of U.S. citizens qualified for science and engineering jobs will be level “at best” if current trends continue.

The U.S. Chamber recognizes that America’s economic progress depends on world-class education and job training (a critical topic beyond the scope of this publication). As a nation of immigrants, it’s also critical to have a secure and efficient immigration system that welcomes highly educated and talented professionals to our nation.

The status quo is not working. Current limits for H-1B visas (for highly skilled workers) and backlogs in the employment-based “green card” program bar U.S. employers from hiring and retaining many foreign nationals who graduate from U.S. universities. Tremendous backlogs continue to plague the employment-based green card system, forcing thousands of highly trained and sought-after professionals to remain in legal and professional limbo for years.

The foreign competition for these highly educated professionals is intense, and if U.S. employers are unable to use this talent, our foreign competitors will. The U.S. scientific, engineering, and health communities cannot hope to maintain their present position of international leadership if they are unable to hire and retain highly educated foreign talent.

America has always prospered by welcoming the best and the brightest from around the world. In the last two decades, foreign nationals have started 25% of U.S. venture capital-backed public companies, adding significant value to the American economy. Highly educated foreign-born professionals are one of America’s greatest competitive advantages, and we must not shut the door on these talented minds.

The U.S. Chamber is advocating strongly for the continuation and expansion of both temporary and permanent visa programs for highly skilled workers as well as programs to help employers access the talent necessary to compete in the worldwide economy. In this vein, the H-1B cap should be significantly raised, or reformulated to fluctuate with market demand, so that companies are able to respond adequately to real-world demands. The employment-based green card cap also needs to be raised to reflect demand.

Just as important, processing delays and backlogs undermine companies’ ability to use employment-based visas to retain the talent that they need. Congress should increase the number of permanent visas granted for employment-based immigration to alleviate these unnecessary backlogs. The U.S. Chamber also supports the continued use of the L visa program for intra-company transfers, which is an important tool for employers to be able to move key employees for work and training. The Chamber also urges lawmakers to support the StartUp Visa Act, which would help create American jobs by encouraging foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States.