New Visas Vital in Global Race for Talent

Although jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, there are not enough American students in these fields such that by 2018, there will be a shortfall of 223,800 STEM workers. This is according to a May 2012 report by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Partnership for New York City entitled “Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent”.

When U.S. companies find it difficult to staff highly-skilled jobs with U.S.-born workers, they often look to qualified foreign-born workers to fill in their need for talent. However, visa limitations and bureaucratic obstacles keep this from happening.

As a result, foreign born students get lured by other countries or return to their home countries where their skills are put to use. For instance, in 2009 many of the tens of thousands of students from China, India, South Korea and other countries, who graduated from an American university with degrees in computer science, engineering and math had little choice but to go home instead of remaining in the U.S. and contributing to our economy.

Whether we like it or not, in a global economy with a global talent pool, the United States’ loss is the rest of the world’s gain.

Immigrants have also been found to be job creators. One study pointed out that nearly half of the top 50 venture capital-backed companies had at least one immigrant founder. Some of the most successful U.S. companies were started by immigrants, including Google, Intel and eBay.

Recognizing the importance and economic contribution of immigrants, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced a bill call Startup Act 2.0.

The bill would create a visa for as many as 50,000 foreign-born students from U.S. universities with master’s or doctorate degree in the STEM fields. The individual would be given conditional resident status as long as he/she remains actively engaged in a STEM field for five consecutive years. The visa holder becomes a permanent legal resident once the conditional status is lifted.

The bill also proposes 75,000 entrepreneur’s visas for immigrant entrepreneurs in the science and technology field who create businesses that employ full-time workers.

To help immigrants from countries with huge visa backlogs, the bill also eliminates the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and adjusts the family-based cap from 7% to 15% without increasing the total number of available immigrant visas.

The bill also gives incentives to encourage investment in startup companies. It seeks to make permanent the exemption on capital gains taxes for investments in small startups and creates a research and development tax credit for small startups that are less than 5 years old.

The authors of the legislation, Senators Mark Warner  (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), noted that six countries in the past 16 months came up with new policies to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation, and argued that the United States cannot afford to turn a blind eye to its competitors.

It is difficult to tell how the bill, which enjoys the support of many technology firms, would fare in the current Congress and in view of the coming elections. A bill for highly-skilled immigrants passed the House last year but has stalled in the Senate. In the past, targeted legislation has been held back in order to create greater buy-in for comprehensive immigration reform.