Why American High-Skilled Immigration is Broken

Imagine if Google was founded in Russia? Or Tesla was founded in South Africa? What if Nazi Germany developed the atomic bomb and winning WWII? Or the Soviet Union won the space-race? If the answer is no, then you want to keep high-skilled immigrants in the US. Because high-skilled immigrants helped make all of those things possible. But US turns away thousands of such immigrants, probably detrimental to US interests.

Consider, what do Alexander Hamilton, Albert Einstein, and Elon Musk have in common? They are all high-skilled immigrants to the United States. Each is a unique individual without whom America would be a different country.  Hamilton and Einstein had no problem getting US citizenship. So how long did America take to give Elon Musk citizenship? After all, this man founded PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, employing thousands of Americans in high-paying jobs. It took America 10 years to give Elon Musk citizenship. Has America become unfriendly to high-skilled immigrants who contribute so much to the US economy?

TL;DR Fixing US high-skilled immigration is a win-win for Americans and for immigrants. So why not fix it?

Why Should I Care About High-Skilled Immigration?

  • Companies with a high-skilled immigrant founder include Google, Tesla, eBayYahoo!AT&TDupont, Pfizer, BiogennVidia … what if these companies were founded in China? Russia? India?
  • The Manhattan Project was developed with high-skilled immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany: Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard among others. What if Nazi Germany developed the bomb first?
  • 70% of Silicon Valley engineers are immigrants. Imagine if these immigrants were sent home and Silicon Valley was in Bangalore or the Pearl River Delta.
  • The Apollo Program owed its success in part to many high-skilled immigrants who worked on it including Wernher Von Braun and Eugene Cernan. What if Soviet Russia pulled ahead in the race to the Moon?

How American are High-Skilled Immigrants anyway?

What is more American than the drive and determination it takes to build a life in a foreign land? In a country that values individual achievement, high-skilled immigrants epitomize that ideal, even though America ironically rejects them as “non-resident aliens”.

Not to mention that high-skilled immigrants keep their heads down, work hard, are model citizens, and pay a lot in tax while not qualifying for (let along using) benefits at all. Seriously, what’s the problem with that?

How does America fit into this?

America is a land of immigrants. The Pilgrims and everyone who came after them were immigrants. Opposing immigration is identical to opposing your own presence on American soil.  Imagine if the Wampanoag sent the Pilgrims home because they had no visas! This is exactly what America does to the best and brightest people in the world. It is literally un-American to reject intelligent, hard-working immigrants. Such immigration is what America is founded on. If you oppose high-skilled immigration, your opinion is un-American. The opinion is inherently a contradiction.

Okay, Why is the System Broken?

  • High-skilled immigrants are those who receive graduate degrees from US universities and want to stay in America. The US govt. gives them “H1-B” visas.
  • Here’s the catch: H1-B visas are open to any worker worldwide via lottery (because there are more applicants than visas). As a result, foreign outsourcing companies spam the lottery with offshore workers.
  • The ironical result is that most H1-B visas do not go to American companies! The top 3 companies, accounting for 50% of H1-B visas, are foreign outsourcing companies. The next 2 are U.S. companies that also outsource.
  • These outsourcing companies use H1-B visas to bring offshore workers into America temporarily. There is no long-term contribution to the US economy.
  • Let out are US companies who hire high-skilled immigrants to live in America, pay taxes here and raise families here. These immigrants, who consider American their home, fail to get H1-B visas.
  • Result: The best and brightest immigrants do not get visas and must go home. America loses out on the very people who have made the country what it is.
  • The H1-B visa ties the holder to one job. It is illegal to work another job or to be unemployed. The H1-B visa makes its hold into an indentured worker.
  • It takes over a decade for most high-skilled immigrants to become citizens, leaving them in limbo for the best years of their life.

Won’t H1-B workers Undercut US workers?

No, because it is illegal to pay a H1-B worker less than the prevailing wage for a US worker. Second, the bureaucracy , cost, and uncertainty of a visa application means US companies prefer US employees.

How can we fix it?

  • The visa system should serve US interests. Currently, it is hugely detrimental to US interests.
  • For visas, favor high-skilled immigrants who consider America their home over temporary foreign workers.
  • Again, H1-B rules should favor US companies over foreign companies.
  • The limit on H1-B visas should be increased to accommodate the high-skilled immigrants that the US economy requires to grow.
  • Consider using the diversity visa allotment for high-skilled immigrants. The diversity visa selects immigrants at random from across the world without consideration of their abilities. Thus, a high-school graduate can instantly become a US citizen while a PhD holder is sent home.
  • Allow H1-B visa holders to become entrepreneurs and to change jobs.
  • Consider fast-track citizenship for high-skilled immigrants.

Disclaimer: In order to simplify the issue, I have left out details. If you’d like to know more, please comment!

2 thoughts on “Why American High-Skilled Immigration is Broken

  1. I would like to more /comment like why the incentive system is thus structured historically and what if anything has been attempted to change it

    • Karan on

      I’m not familiar with the full history of U.S. immigration. But I have followed the attempts to change it for 5 years now. The problem is that high-skilled immigration is lumped together with low-skilled immigration. And, no one can agree on low-skilled immigration. Thus, no immigration legislation ever passes. As long as you have a Democrat president and Republican house, no immigration legislation will pass.

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