Last week a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Partner with Korea Act (S. 1547), which seeks to provide 15,000 visas annually to South Koreans with specialized skills. Currently, only 3,500 South Koreans receive high-skilled visas, known as H-1Bs, per year.
One sponsor, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, supports the bill because he believes it will strengthen U.S.-South Korean ties and help Virginia businesses. The House is considering a similar bill.
Increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants from South Korea four-fold would be a smart step forward in expanding legal immigration and improving the U.S. economy. However, South Korea should not be the only country that receives special carve-outs in the visa system.
High-skilled immigrants are a boon for the economy, so caps on such visas should be dramatically raised and quotas for specific countries should be abolished. Few public-policy issues see such universal agreement among economists and business owners.
In a groundbreaking study, Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy and Michaela Platzer of Content First found that over the past 15 years, immigrants started one-quarter of venture-backed U.S. public companies, with a total market capitalization of over $500 billion. The study also revealed that 40 percent of publicly traded companies in high-tech fields were founded by immigrants, including some of the largest companies, like Intel, Yahoo, Google, and Sun Microsystems.
Their survey of company respondents found that nearly two-thirds agreed that current U.S. immigration laws damage American competitiveness. Nearly 40 percent said the lack of H-1B visas harmed their own companies in global competition.
High-skilled, entrepreneurial immigrants create jobs today and for the future. Nearly two-thirds of immigrant business founders surveyed said they plan to start more companies in the U.S. moving forward.
The argument for high-skilled immigrants is two-pronged. First, more high-skilled immigrants grow the U.S. economy and provide more jobs for American citizens. Second, by not admitting more high-skilled immigrants, Congress concedes the top innovators, the most dynamic new companies, and the biggest job creators to other countries. High-tech immigrants want to come to the United States and increase employment but current laws prevent them from doing so.
Another aspect of the H-1B program in need of reform are the fees that must be paid. The total cost per applicant is about $2,300, with no guarantee of acceptance. This is in addition to fees paid to attorneys to fill out the required complex paperwork. By making it easier to apply for high-skilled visas, more firms would be able to take advantage of the benefits.
Earlier this week, Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute published a white paper arguing that Congress should abolish the restrictions on high-skilled immigration. Lindsey writes that only 0.4 percent of the work force consists of H-1B visa holders and that only 15 percent of the green cards issued each year are for high-skilled workers. These numbers should be dramatically increased.
My colleague David Bier recently published a study on high-skilled immigration that summarizes research showing that H-1B-hiring firms create five to seven more jobs than standard market conditions would predict. Moreover, research finds that a 1 percent increase in foreign workers raises wages of college-educated American workers 7 to 8 percent. Bier also shows that real hourly wages for H-1B fields have risen by 5 percent, compared to a 2 percent decline in other occupations, and that wages in major H-1B fields are rising even though the number of immigrant workers has increased 50 percent. Thus wages are rising for immigrants and native-born Americans because of high-skilled immigration.
Finally, Bier estimates that one immigrant worker in engineering or computer-related industries is associated with an increase of almost two additional jobs in those industries. He writes, “The benefits of H-1B workers are indisputable. H-1Bs are associated with greater economic growth, innovation, employment, and wages for Americans.”
Besides the Partner with Korea Act, other proposals to expand high-skilled immigration that are pending in Congress include the Startup Act, SKILLS Act, and the I-Squared Act. This analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center discusses the reform bills.
Congress should dramatically increase high-skilled immigration as soon as possible. By reforming the high-skilled visa system, the U.S. economy can make great gains and improve employment possibilities for all Americans.