Of all America's immigrant visa programs, arguably the most successful for the U.S. economy has been the H-1B program. This program admits highly skilled foreign workers who 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, and those that are successful here apply for permanent residence when the visa expires.
The firms that use these visas must affirm that they cannot find workers with comparable skills and must pay a prevailing wage. There is little evidence that these foreign workers displace Americans from their jobs. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has testified that every H-1B immigrant his firm recruits translates into about four or five additional American workers being hired. If we want research labs, advanced manufacturing and scientific advances to happen here, we must have access to the world's best workers. The problem is there is a severe shortage of these visas. Today, there are some 65,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program immigrants admitted under this visa category. "In the first week of this fiscal year, nearly 200,000 petitions were received," according to Forbes. This mismatch between demand and supply is restraining America's growth spree.
The H-1B 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 H-1B 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 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.
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 number one in the world and to ensure we never surrender technological dominance to China or other rising nations that want to knock America off our commanding economic heights.
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks. He is the co-author of "Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive the American Economy."