Skip to content

Strategic Immigration Reform Is Our Competitive Advantage | Commentary

Recently the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bill ensures the United States will remain a magnet for talent and innovation, proposing new visas for high-skilled immigrants. These visas would allow the U.S. to retain the best and brightest — a critical step in addressing our nation’s shortage of high-skilled workers. This bipartisan bill may not be perfect, but we cannot wait another 18 years for the chance to bring our immigration system up to speed. The global economy won’t wait for us.

Now it’s time for the House to bring its version of comprehensive immigration reform to the floor. Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are leading the charge in securing committee approval of the SKILLS Visa Act, which works to address high-skilled immigration.

The SKILLS Visa Act would tackle our nation’s shortage of high-skilled workers by giving green cards to foreign graduates of our universities who get degrees in STEM fields, increasing the number of H-1B visas, and repealing the current 7 percent, per-country cap. It also creates an entrepreneur visa program and strengthens the current investor visa program. Even as it opens the doors to high-skilled foreign workers, the bill’s market-based approach will protect American workers. Let’s keep this legislation moving.

As I’ve pointed out before, high-skilled immigrants are responsible for creating one-quarter of startup technology companies in the U.S., and that’s not just in the places you’d expect. Research from policy group Engine Advocacy shows that cities as diverse as Cambridge, Mass.; Boulder, Colo.; Huntsville, Ala.; and Wichita, Kan., all have high concentrations of high-tech employment. It gets better. For every job created in the high-tech sector, Engine Advocacy research shows that 4.3 additional jobs will be created in the local goods and services economy.

High-tech startups are proven job creators in the U.S. Why are we pushing them away, especially when the National Science Foundation is already spending tax dollars on education grants for STEM professors, many of whom work closely with and rely on the ingenuity of foreign-born graduate students? We need to fix what’s broken before these individuals, their businesses and the jobs they bring with them go somewhere else because they cannot legally stay in the U.S.

For America to remain the world’s leading innovator, we must embrace immigration policy reforms that maintain our reputation as a place where talented, motivated workers can build businesses, create new jobs and contribute to the overall success of our economy.

There is a billboard outside San Francisco International Airport that reads: “Have H-1B visa problems? Pivot to Canada.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. We’re competing in a global economy, and countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia are getting more aggressive by granting more visas for entrepreneurs based on skills.

We urge House leadership to bring the package of immigration reform bills, especially the SKILLS Visa Act, to the floor for a final vote. Immigration reform is critical for the U.S. to maintain our competitive advantage. We need a system that rewards talent and innovation and places the right value on skill. Our immigration laws must bolster our ability to attract and retain the best minds and to build the most innovative and successful businesses. This should be a fundamental tenet of the strategy for our competitive future.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association and author of the New York Times best-selling books “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”