MARK ZUCKERBERG IS RIGHT: Here's Why We Do Need To Fix The System For Letting High Tech Workers Into America

facebook, mark zuckerberg, getty

For years, America has been the centre of scientific and technological innovation for the entire species. 

When things are discovered, built, or innovated, it’s done in America. 

That status could be at risk,  in large part due to the fact that the country is training outstandingly qualified people before promptly throwing them out for the rest of the world to scoop up. 

At the moment, a group of tech firms are trying to get Congress to fix that. — an advocacy group that is the brainchild of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and has the backing of several major players in tech — is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and particularly for reforming H-1B visas — temporary permits that allow high-skilled immigrants to work with a company for five years while applying for residency or a green card. 

One thing and tech firms involved in advocacy say is that there aren’t enough Science, Technology, Engineering, and maths (STEM) majors to fill demand. 

That part isn’t necessarily true. The issue isn’t the shortage per se. The issue is the inefficiency and arbitrariness of the current system of high-tech visas.

We’ve assembled a series of charts to explain why this is so.

Before we get to the charts, there are four key points to take away from this presentation. First, there isn't really a shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and maths (STEM) majors. We're not seeing the type of STEM wage inflation you'd expect to see in a true shortage.

Second, America is letting the world's best and brightest get an education here, but has failed in getting them to work here.

Third, American businesses have to contend with an unpredictable hiring process for talented international workers.

The solution to this is to make the H1-B visa cap flexible. However, the cap has to be able to respond to the economic situation of the times to protect American workers.

When it comes to issuing H-1B visas, the U.S. prioritizes reuniting families over immigrants trying to work in America.

Compared to countries that also seek high-talent individuals, the U.S. allows a very low number of visas for high-skilled workers.

In order to acquire an H-1B visa, an applicant must have the sponsorship of a firm that intends to hire her. Typically the firm will cover the visa fees — which range from $1,575 to $4,325 — and the applicant will get in the pool for the visa.

The visas are subject to an annual cap, which means that there's an immense amount of competition between firms and applicants.

Before the recession, the H-1B visa cap was hit almost immediately, with a year's worth of visas going in one week. While the recession slashed demand, the cap was hit in 5 days last month.

This chart shows how American-educated foreign-born students are not becoming foreign-born American workers. Why are we letting talented people leave the country?

To understand the pitfalls and advantages of the H-1B program, we have to look at the feeder system: Colleges, and specifically foreign-born students on F-1 visas.

The U.S. is the global hub of higher education. More than one in five international students studying abroad do so in America.

More than one in three doctorates awarded by U.S. universities go to foreign-born students.

The U.S. pales in comparison to other nations when it comes to producing engineers. Singapore, China and Germany are outpacing America when it comes to highly qualified engineers.

At the moment, foreign-born students are more likely to get a Ph.D or Masters degree than their American-born counterparts. This is one of the major reasons they're so enticing for U.S. businesses.

Looking at those doctorates in particular, temporary visa holders dominate in engineering and also constitute major presences in the physical and life sciences.

A major line of argument from industry groups trying to raise the H1-B visa cap is that the supply of native-born Americans with Science, Technology, Engineering and maths (STEM) training isn't enough to meet industry demand. Is that true?

Despite passionate claims from the industry, there isn't a ton of evidence that a STEM shortfall exists.

One in eight four-year college graduates holds a degree in a STEM field. However, just 63% of those STEM graduates actually go into STEM industries.

After graduation foreign-born engineering Ph. Ds are less likely to have a job than U.S.-born counterparts. This also holds true in other fields such as computer science.

One major argument against raising the H-1B visa quota is that the U.S. produces plenty of STEM majors who don't have jobs in STEM. For instance, nearly one in three computer science students aren't working in science, tech, engineering or maths a year after graduation.

Still, that's not fair. While unemployment for STEM graduates is not as low as it could be, many of those STEM majors have gone on to work in other fields. Majors in STEM have among the lowest unemployment figures of any major.

More than 9 million Americans have a degree in a STEM field while only 3 million in fact have a job in STEM. While by no means should every STEM major expected to work in the field, this shows that while we have plenty of successful STEM majors many don't actually want to go into STEM.

Source: Ross Eisenbrey

Why do tech companies want to raise the visa cap?

Software development is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S.

The number of IT guest workers in the U.S. is growing faster than the number of computer science and engineering graduates coming out of U.S. colleges.

If there was truly a STEM shortfall — if there were not enough supply to meet demand — it would be expected that the total cost of that labour would rise. Instead, annual earnings in software, semiconductors, system designers and programming have remained completely stagnant over the past decade.

What it really comes down to is that companies are concerned because the window to recruit this high-quality foreign-born talent is becoming increasingly narrow. Companies want to be able to reliably hire top talent. This just makes it harder.

Even though there isn't a STEM shortfall, there is still a lot of room in the industry for more foreign talent. While unemployment in the computer and electronic product business is still higher than pre-recession levels, it's still very low.

There are a bunch of very, very good reasons the U.S. should increase H-1B visas. Specifically, foreign-born STEM techies — and the companies they start — are awesome for the economy.

In high skill industries, the immigrants tend to be more qualified than their native-born counterparts.

These STEM workers — who pay taxes just like their citizen counterparts — are great for the U.S. and have a stimulus effect.

100 foreign-born workers with advanced STEM degrees created 262 new jobs for U.S. natives from 2000-2007.

Immigrants with advanced degrees also pay far more in taxes than they receive from major government programs.

Half of all U.S. tech and engineering firms have foreign-born founders.

Foreign-born college graduates also produce three times as many patents as native-born graduates.

Immigrants also start businesses more often than native-born Americans.

So we don't have a STEM shortage, but H-1B visa holders have an outstandingly positive impact on the economy. Policymakers are considering updating the current policy to make it easier for companies to recruit high-quality talent.

A proposed plan from the Senate Gang of Eight would raise the visa cap and make it so that the cap could increase or decrease subject to economic changes.

Opponents argue that the Gang of 8 bill could give nearly half of new IT jobs requiring a college degree to guest workers.

The adjustments to the system are key. When demand goes up, next year's visa target goes up. When the demand goes down, next year's visa cap goes down.

H-1B visas are only a tiny piece of the immigration puzzle.

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