Congress Can Remove Talent Bottleneck

This article by TAB CEO Glenn Hamer & American Business Immigration Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Shi was originally published by Newsweek May 26, 2022.


One of us is a child of two doctors who decided to bring their talents and skills to America in search of freedom, opportunity and a better life. Another is the husband of an immigrant, whose parents are small business owners. We know first-hand the advantage America has over other countries in attracting the world's best students, scientists, entrepreneurs, dreamers and doers. But the world is catching up, and in 2020, Canada replaced the U.S. as the world's top destination for foreign workers. Congress is working on a solution, and it must be seen to the finish line before America loses its edge.


The House and the Senate are working on reconciling two bills—the America COMPETES Act in the House and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the Senate—that seek to make our country more competitive by investing billions of dollars in scientific research, funding the development of new technologies and bolstering U.S. production of semiconductors.


Language is under consideration that would ensure that American companies are free to compete for the world's best talent by eliminating roadblocks faced by highly educated immigrants seeking to make America their home. Provisions in this bill free up more visas for immigrant entrepreneurs, create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who obtain their PhD in the U.S. and eliminate the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer and Math) workers visa caps that limit our nation's talent pool.


In 2019, foreign-born workers accounted for nearly 20 percent of the STEM workforce and 45 percent of mathematical and computer scientists, physical scientists, life scientists, social scientists and engineers with doctoral degrees. As companies and institutions clamor to find qualified scientists, doctors and engineers, each year, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 STEM doctorates—readymade to fill thousands of open science, technology and engineering jobs today—apply for permanent status in the U.S.

Currently, the wait time for a green card for STEM PhDs with job offers in the U.S. can drag on for 10 years or more. The best and brightest cannot continue contributing to our economy or help us compete with China if they cannot legally live in the U.S.

The immigration provisions of the America COMPETES Act would also help stanch this loss of talent by welcoming an estimated 2,940 immigrant entrepreneurs with the proposed "W" visa which is projected to create more than 429,000 jobs and inject $18.5 billion into the U.S. economy. But the constraints that our failed immigration system places on our workforce and economy are not limited to STEM fields. The reality of America's current labor market is that we need high-skilled workers, low-skilled workers and everything in between.


In March, U.S. employers posted a record 11.5 million job openings—basically twice as many jobs as people unemployed. There are still more jobs open than people willing or able to fill. Immigration reform is a readily available solution for both the worker shortage and our nation's ability to compete on a global scale. Congress' efforts to invest in scientific research, the development of new technologies and bolstering U.S. production of semiconductors will be stunted if we don't have enough workers with advanced STEM degrees to carry out the mission.


The components included in the America COMPETES Act represent one of the best chances for bipartisan immigration reform in a generation. The last major reform was 35 years ago under President Ronald Reagan. There is also a strong economic argument to be made for broader immigration reform for our dreamers, farm workers and essential workers. Congress should not miss the opportunity to unleash the talent of the world's greatest minds, hardest workers and keep them here in the U.S.


Rebecca Shi is the founding executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.


Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.