The Other Immigrants

The Wall Street Journal

By JASON L. RILEY

 

Congress continues to debate immigration reform—a Senate hearing is scheduled for next week—and much of the media focus has been on low-skilled foreign workers. That’s understandable since low-skilled workers make up most of the illegal population. Still, lawmakers should keep in mind that our system for high-skilled immigration also deserves serious attention.

On Friday, immigration officials announced that the statutory limits on high-skilled visa applications had been reached for the next fiscal year, which doesn’t even begin until October. In the past decade it has become common for the 65,000-visa cap to be reached well before the start of the next fiscal year. If demand for these visas continues to exceed supply, the concern is not that foreign professionals will start migrating illegally; it’s that U.S. employers competing in a global marketplace will be at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting talent.

The real-world consequences are obvious when you consider that tech giants like Google, GOOG -0.04% eBay EBAY -0.81% and Intel were started by immigrants. In fact, one study found that some 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Would we rather these companies, and the attendant jobs and economic activity, be located somewhere else?

Many of the recipients of high-skilled visas are educated at U.S. universities. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that some of these foreign students are rethinking the value of a U.S. graduate degree. “Ending nearly a decade of double-digit growth, applicants from Chinese citizens to U.S. graduate schools declined 5% for the coming academic year amid worries about unstable funding for science programs and tight immigration policies,” said the Journal

We all want more American kids to study math and science, but the reality today is that 55% of all master’s degrees and 63% of doctorates in electrical engineering go to foreign born students. If we educate these foreigners and then show them the door, U.S. employers in search of people with such skills will be forced to hire off-shore. There may have been a time when the world’s brightest had no choice but to study in the U.S. But that was then.

“Increased competition from schools in Canada and Australia, which generally have less restrictive immigration policies than the U.S., are adding to the pressure, as is the emergence of strong academic alternatives in Asia,” said the Journal.

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