Editors' Note: This article is co-written by Stuart Anderson.
Employment-based immigrants contribute greatly to America, although you would not know it from the way current U.S. policy treats them. Due to low quotas, a typical skilled immigrant sponsored by an American company now waits 6 to 10 years for a green card (permanent residence). The House Judiciary Committee marks up legislation this week to change that, representing likely the only measure Congress may take in the remaining weeks to aid innovation, the economy and the competitiveness of U.S. companies.
H.R. 5882, authored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would reduce wait times for green cards and help retain talented people in the United States. It would do this by providing green cards that had been allotted in previous years but went unused, primarily due to bureaucratic obstacles.
“A developed country’s competitiveness now comes primarily from its capacity to innovate — the ability to create the new products and services that people want,” according to Curtis Carlson of the Silicon Valley research firm SRI International. Skilled immigrants are a vital source of America’s capacity to innovate.
The National Venture Capital Association reports that 1 in 4 publicly-trade companies that began with venture capital since 1990 had at least one immigrant founder. While the vast majority of employees at U.S. firms are Americans, when U.S. employers recruit on college campuses they find foreign nationals represent a high proportion of the graduates in key fields. In 2006, 73% of new electrical engineering Ph.D.s in the U.S. were granted to international students, according to the National Science Foundation, while in 2005, foreign nationals received 55 percent of electrical engineering master’s degrees and 42 percent of computer science master’s degrees.
H-1B temporary visas, which have been exhausted each of the past 5 fiscal years, only allow individuals to stay on a temporary basis, so an employment-based green card is necessary to stay here permanently. The separate quota for green cards for skilled immigrants is set at 140,000 a year (including dependents of the skilled immigrant). That quota has also been insufficient to meet demand, creating waits of 6 to 10 years for a green card.