H1 Visa: Facilitating education and employment pathways for economic development

“If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than nine million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or math field, but only about three million have a job in one”, opines Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute in The New York Times.

Mr. Eisenbrey argues against the value of expanding the H1-B temporary visa program in STEM fields and concludes “Bringing over more — there are already 500,000 workers on H-1B visas — would obviously darken job prospects for America’s struggling young scientists and engineers. But it would also hurt our efforts to produce more: if the message to American students is, ‘Don’t bother working hard for a high-tech degree, because we can import someone to do the job for less,’ we could do significant long-term damage to the high-tech educational system we value so dearly.”

However, Mr. Eisenbrey’s opinion misses important facts related to innovation and economic development that far outweigh the perceived costs. Here are two related reports providing several facts about the demand and usage of H1-B especially related to STEM fields:

– The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas by the Brookings Institute
– Help Wanted: The Role of Foreign Workers in the Innovation Economy by Partnership for a New American Economy, Information Technology Industry Council and U.S. Chamber of Commerce

According to the Brookings Institute report, “In 92 of the 106 high demand metropolitan areas, STEM occupations accounted for more than half of all requests. Computer occupations were the most highly requested occupation group in all but 11 metros of the 106 high-demand metros, where engineering, healthcare practitioners, and postsecondary teachers were more requested.” This indicates that demand for H1-B visas had been majorly coming from high-tech industries.

The H1-B visa program is an important policy tool which continues to make U.S. a very attractive destination for international students. This is partly because 2005 onwards, U.S. had allowed for 20,000 additional visas for international students graduating with advanced degree from U.S. universities. This also connects with another enabling policy of 17 months OPT extension for STEM graduates.

I also mapped GDP of top 10 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) along with the demand for H1-B visas in top 10 MSAs. As the table indicates, eight of the top-10 MSAs by GDP overlap with H1-B demand, confirming an intuitive correlation between economic activity and demand for skills. To sum up, an efficient and swift process of attracting skilled immigrants is integral to the economic vitality in the U.S. and H1-visa had been facilitating this need.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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