From keeping consumers connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, to diagnosing patients via telemedicine, America faces no shortage of technological challenges. Yet, there’s a well-documented shortage of skilled professionals across the country who are able to address these tasks. Companies at the cutting-edge have been able to make up for this labor shortfall and retain global competitiveness by hiring qualified foreign personnel via the H-1B visa program.
But this program may grind to a screeching halt due to misguided concerns from the Trump administration and several lawmakers about the need for skilled immigration. With sky-high unemployment gripping the U.S., fears abound that new visas will put foreigners at an unfair advantage against American workers. In fact, talented professionals from overseas are instrumental in creating job opportunities for millions across the country. Policymakers can pave the way for a renaissance in the tech and medical sectors by keeping the H-1B program on the books.
Every year, American companies bring in 85,000 skilled H-1B workers from across the globe. With application costs totaling about $10,000 per worker, it isn’t cheap for large tech, consulting, and medical firms to tap the talent of these professionals. But H-1B workers typically deliver value to employers and consumers worth many times that expense, bolstering the U.S. economy and creating better-paying opportunities for everyone.
A 2015 study by University of California, Davis and Colgate University scholars found that a single percentage point increase in a city’s H-1B science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related employment was linked to a 7% to 8% overall boost in wages for college-educated Americans in that city. Americans without college educations also saw a significant 3% to 4% increase in wages.
The results may strike many as counterintuitive or wishful thinking. But as the researchers point out, STEM workers “are fundamental inputs for innovation, the main driver of productivity growth.” And since these workers tend to be in short supply in the U.S., allowing professionals from abroad to fill in labor gaps benefits everybody.
Not everyone, however, is swayed by this logic. The New York Times reports that federal officials are considering putting employment-related visa programs such as H-1B on hold. Lawmakers have suggested stemming the flow of foreign professionals into the country until the U.S. unemployment rate gets back down to a “normal” level. These proposals rest on a tired, zero-sum view of the economy, where any job taken by a foreigner is one less vocation available to a native American.
Citing research by economist Giovanni Peri, the American Immigration Council says that “had the U.S. government not rejected 178,000 H-1B visa petitions in computer-related fields in the 2007 and 2008 visa lotteries, U.S. metropolitan areas could have created as many as 231,224 tech jobs for U.S.-born workers in the two years that followed.”
This period, of course, coincided with the last major economic calamity that resulted in unemployment rates soaring past 10%. The need for skilled, foreign workers does not diminish in times of recession and national crisis. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has made the services of foreign-born doctors more valuable than ever before.
Medical facilities in rural areas rely heavily on H-1B staff to treat patients. These areas would otherwise face great difficulty in recruiting doctors. And, across the country, doctors struggling to fulfill a surge of telemedicine requests can now refer patients to H-1B doctors. The Citizenship and Immigration Services recently allowed visa holders to take these telemedicine requests after a bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the agency to expand patient access. But if the Trump administration and Congress limit the H-1B program, millions of patients’ lives would be put in jeopardy.
In addition, millions of future technology jobs and billions of dollars in wages could be lost forever. President Donald Trump should reject calls to torpedo the jobs program and instead look for ways to hasten the arrival of skilled foreign professionals into the U.S. Policymakers can energize the American economy and keep households healthy and connected, but only with sane, sensible immigration policies that welcome skilled workers.
Ross Marchand is the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.