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Hearing of the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - Enhancing American Competitiveness through Skilled Immigration


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: The contributions of highly-skilled and educated immigrants to the United States are well-documented. Seventy-six percent of the patents awarded to our top patent-producing universities had at least one foreign-born inventor. According to a recent report, these foreign-born inventors "played especially large roles in cutting edge fields like semiconductor device manufacturing, information technology, pulse or digital communications, pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds and optics."

A study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that an additional 100 immigrants with advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities is associated with an additional 262 jobs for natives. The study also found that immigrants with advanced degrees pay over $22,000 a year in taxes yet their families receive less than $2,300 in government benefits.

The United States has the most generous legal immigration system in the world -- providing permanent residence to over a million immigrants a year. Yet, how many of those immigrants do we select on the basis of the education and skills they can bring to America? Only 12% -- barely more than one out of 10 -- and that is including the immigrants' family members.

Given the outstanding track record of immigrants in founding some of our most successful companies, how many immigrants do we select on the basis of their entrepreneurial talents? Less than 1% -- and that is only if they already have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to participate in the investor visa program.

Does any of this make sense, given the intense international economic competition that America faces? Does any of this make sense, given that many talented foreign graduates of our best universities are giving up hope of getting a green card and are packing up and moving home to work for our competitors? Does any of this make sense, given that Indian nationals with advanced degrees sought out by American industry have to wait over eight years for a green card? Does any of this make sense, given that Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada each select over 60% of immigrants on the basis of skills and education? The answer is clearly not.

It is as if we purposely add weights to handicap our horse in order to give our competitors a better shot at the winner's circle. This just doesn't make sense as national economic policy.

The House of Representatives acted last year to rechart our course. We voted by over a hundred vote margin to pass legislation by former Chairman Smith that redirected 50,000 or so green cards a year from winners of the diversity visa lottery toward foreign students graduating from our universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields. That bill would have made all Americans winners. Unfortunately, at the direction of the White House, the bill died in the Senate.

In this new Congress, we can rechart our nation's course anew. We should look at all aspects of high-skilled immigration policy. We can look for ways to improve our temporary visa programs for skilled workers -- such as H-1B and L visas. We can look for ways to improve our temporary visa program for entrepreneurs -- the E-2 program. We can look for ways to offer green cards to aspiring entrepreneurs that don't demand that they themselves be rich but that instead rely on the judgment of the venture capitalists who have funded them. We can look for ways to reduce the backlogs for second and third preference employment-based green cards. And we can seek to help the United States retain more of the foreign students who graduate from our universities.

Of course, at the same time, we need to ensure that whatever we do brightens rather than darkens the career prospects of American students and American workers. Even newly-minted PhDs are not immune to sometimes bleak employment prospects.

But attracting the world's best and brightest is decidedly in the interests of all Americans. Just think of the incredible economic windfall that America experienced through the arrival of scientists fleeing Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. This was one of the factors that enabled the post-war economic boom. Today, talented individuals have many options worldwide as to where to relocate. America needs to regain its place as the number one destination for the world's best and brightest. That should be our goal.

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