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The mainstream discussion about the problems with America’s immigration laws and possible solutions has been rather myopic. Most of the dialogue involves the US-Mexican border, the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country currently, and the need for a guest worker program for low-skilled laborers.
A few lone voices are discussing how to help make America smarter through immigration reform. But the issues involved aren’t as sexy as broken borders or amnesty.
Up until about a year ago, I worked in the biotech/pharmaceutical field in healthcare policy and grassroots advocacy. In the mid-to-late 1990s, our industry dealt with a serious issue involving the lack of highly skilled workers. The reality is that the United States just doesn’t have enough domestic high-skilled science and technology college graduates to fill needed jobs in private market science-based companies.
[Senators Marco] Rubio and [Orrin] Hatch pointed out that about 120,000 computer-engineering jobs are created in America annually, but that only 40,000 college students graduate each year with a computer science degree. Rubio said that the companies with those vacant jobs will not wait for more U.S. graduates and that they might move to other countries looking for qualified workers.
According to inSPIRE, a coalition supporting immigration and workforce development needs, there is a great need for reform.
• Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent during the decade ending in 2018, compared to just 9.8 percent-growth in non-STEM jobs. But at the current pace, the U.S. won’t be able to produce enough workers to fill the jobs. In 2008, just four percent of all bachelor’s degrees were awarded in engineering. In China, 31 percent of all bachelor’s degrees were in engineering and throughout all of Asia the percentage was 19 percent.
• From 2010 to 2020, the U.S. will have about 1.2 million openings in computing professions that require a bachelor’s degree. At the current pace, however, the U.S. will not produce even half the number of graduates needed to fill those positions.
• Examining the computer science field more closely, through the year 2020, the U.S. economy is expected to produce 120,000 new computing jobs each year, jobs that will require at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study. However, America annually produces just 40,000 graduates with bachelor’s degrees in computer science.
So, despite successful reform efforts under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, the workforce development needs are greater than ever.
Momentum is building for solutions with bi-partisan legislation in the Senate to help alleviate the high-skilled worker crunch.
U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) today introduced legislation, the Immigration Innovation (I2) Act of 2013, to bring long-overdue reforms to the nation’s immigration laws for high-skilled workers. The bill focuses on areas vital to ensuring the United States can maintain its competitiveness in the global economy: the quantity of employment-based non-immigrant visas (H-1B visas), allowing for their growth depending on the demands of the economy while making reforms to protect workers; increased access to green cards for high-skilled workers by expanding the exemptions and eliminating the annual per country limits for employment based green cards; and reforming the fees on H-1B and green cards so those fees can be used to promote American worker retraining and education. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Mark Warner (D-Va,) are all original cosponsors of the bill.
The summary of the Senate legislation can be read here.
Senator Rubio in particular has been quite outspoken about the need for reform of the H-1B visa program.
Wouldn’t it be great, regardless of the outcome of the contentious issues of immigration reform, if Congress could actually pass a law that made our nation and long-term economy smarter?