Today U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting applications from companies for H-1B visas - the primary work authorization program for foreign high-skilled employees, including those with expertise in science, engineering, and computer programming. These are workers that our economy depends on to power the country’s top technology firms as well as young and growing technology startups.
Yet despite an exponential increase in global demand for talented workers, the visa pool remains capped at 85,000, an arbitrary and outdated number set by Congress decades ago. USCIS already announced it expects the cap to be met within 5 days, meaning visa applications for high-skilled engineers, computer scientists and developers will be subject to random lottery. The futures of the very brightest men and women among these workers will be left to chance, while companies will again be forced to limit their workforces here in the US.
For all those who care about the future of our economy, April 1 is an opportunity to remind Congress that this woefully outdated immigration system is hindering the growth of high-tech companies across this country and the good jobs they create. Serious reform is long overdue, and it becomes more urgent with each passing year as we turn away more and more skilled, in-demand workers vital to both new startups and established companies.
Immigration reform must include raising the cap on H-1Bs and expanding the scope of other types of visas many companies rely on to hire talented workers. But a full modernization of the immigration system must also incorporate new pathways for both work authorization and citizenship for high-skilled foreign entrepreneurs seeking to build new companies here. Because it’s not just about allowing high-tech companies to hire educated employees to fill existing jobs; our economy also needs ambitious entrepreneurs to create new jobs, as well as new technologies that will continue to make America the world leader in innovation. Talent can be born anywhere, and an immigration system that welcomes and encourages entrepreneurship will make sure that these talented individuals can flourish here in the U.S.
While the President’s executive action addresses some of the shortcoming of our immigration system and aims to create visa pathways to allow entrepreneurs to build businesses in America, a truly modernized, updated and viable system can only come through Congressional reform. If we are to remain at the forefront of innovation, we must do everything in our power to bring the most talented innovators to the U.S.
Unless Congress acts to expand the pool of visas available for these innovators and make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to create businesses and jobs in the U.S., we risk forfeiting our status as the leader of the technology world.