The Importance Of Skilled Immigrants To The American Economy

Posted: Wed, Oct 14th 2009 1:50pm PT
Closed: 27 Oct 2009, 11:59PM PT

Please help us discuss how better immigration policies for skilled immigrants can help improve American innovation policy in this Insight Communmity case.

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp, at times, is the difference between a zero-sum game and a non-zero-sum game. This becomes especially evident when discussing skilled immigration in America. There are many who are quite against the idea of giving visas to skilled foreigners to come to the US, believing that these individuals "take away jobs" from Americans. The only problem is that this is not supported by the data. That's because jobs are not a zero-sum game. There is not a set number of jobs that cannot change. And skilled immigrants have a long history of not just coming to the US, but also in creating a significant number of new jobs.

The importance of skilled immigrants in driving new jobs has been known for years, but the trend has only accelerated over the past decade. That older study found that 25% of Silicon Valley companies were founded by immigrants. A more recent Duke study found that this number has spread throughout the US: of tech- or engineering-related companies founded across the US, over 25% were founded by immigrants. In Silicon Valley, the number is now 52.4%. These companies are creating tremendous new job opportunities, not taking them away. Growing jobs is quite important.

Furthermore, it's difficult to see how keeping skilled immigrant labor out of the country helps the US. Those same workers do not disappear. Instead, they join tech companies in their homeland, where they end up competing against US companies. Shouldn't we want the best and smartest individuals working for US companies and helping to create US jobs, rather than the alternative?

Many of the concerns about skilled labor immigration tend to focus on the controversial H-1b program, with most of the complaints pointing to various abuses with the program. But we shouldn't be throwing out a good idea (encouraging skilled labor to come build companies in the US) with the fact that the program itself has been abused at times. If there are abuses, let's fix the abuses, while looking at better ways to encourage immigration from those we want to help us building our economy.

The Innovation Movement is an effort by the Consumer Electronics Association to make more people aware of such issues, and to make sure that Congress actually takes these issues into account, rather than just focusing on the patriotic headline while ignoring the unpatriotic results.

In this Insight Community Conversation, we're looking for thoughtful and well-written discussions on skilled labor immigration, and how to best encourage it. These can be ideas on how to respond to critics of skilled immigration programs, how to improve our current programs (such as the H-1b), or even brand new ideas for how the US could best encourage skilled immigration and enabling the creation of more jobs in the high tech sector. The best results will be used as posts on the Innovation Movement website.

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