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Getting the Immigrants We Need

04-23-2019
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COMMENTARY

Of all America's immigrant visa programs, arguably the most successful for the US economy has been the H1B program. This program admits highly-skilled foreigners that fill vital employment niches to make our made-in-America businesses more successful in international markets. Larry Kudlow, the director of President Donald Trump's National Economic Council, calls these immigrants the "brainiacs."

In many ways, he is right. America's high tech companies use tens of thousands of these visas each year. The workers come for usually about six years, those that are successful here apply for permanent residence when the visa expires.

The firms that use these visas must not displace American workers or pay sub-standard wages. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has testified that every H1B immigrant his firm recruits, translates into about five additional American workers being hired. If we want research labs, advanced manufacturing and scientific advance to happen here, we must have access to the world's best workers.

The problem is there is a severe shortage of these visas. In 2018 there were only some 65,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) immigrants admitted under this visa category. Employers have requested about 200,000, according to Forbes. This mismatch between demand and supply is restraining America's growth spree.

The H1B process is cumbersome and expensive for employers and they wouldn't spend the money on the program if they were not desperate for these talented newcomers. In the last decade or so, the processing time and costs have nearly doubled to get an H1B immigrant admitted to these shores. This is a drain on the economy and reduces American competitiveness.

I travel the nation from coast to coast and talk to employers from large manufacturers, to high tech firms, to engineering and financial services. Most tell me their biggest challenge is finding the skilled workers they need.

The visa limits should be raised and adjusted to meet the demands. The feds should charge employers a higher fee to bring these immigrants to the country and these funds could be used to beef up border security and pay for the cost of administering visa programs.

The solution is to tilt our immigration system away from extended family immigrants and more toward skills and merit. To put America first, it makes sense to give green cards to the immigrants who will do the most good for our country. Most other countries stress skills and workplace needs higher than family and other categories.

President Trump wants to shift our visa system to emphasize skill and merit and Congress should get behind him. Skill-based immigration is one of our best weapons to keep the American economy No. 1 in the world and to ensure we never surrender technological dominance to the Chinese or other rising nations, who want to knock America off our commanding economic heights.

Stephen Moore is an economic consultant with Freedom Works and author of "Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive our economy." President Trump nominated him to the Federal Reserve.

 

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