The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) has shared the latest trends in H-1B work visas — and the results are not encouraging. Tech companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft accepted more H-1B visas in 2017 than 2016, indicating a growing need for skilled labor. Despite this, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data shows that the number of H-1B visas for 2019 has fallen by more than 9,000. This drop is thanks in part to a hostile political climate.
H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialized fields. For many skilled foreign nationals and international students, these visas are the only way to work in the country long-term. And these individuals represent a significant portion of the nation’s STEM labor. The 81 percent of the nation’s full-time graduate students in electrical engineering are international students, as well as 79 percent in computer science.
In 1990, the federal government placed an annual cap on H-1B visas. It allows only 85,000 visas yearly, or 0.05 percent of the U.S. workforce. However, this cap was set before the dawn of the internet, smartphones and other complex technology. Given the critical importance and rapid growth of these fields, the current cap is far too low.
Beyond this cap, the Trump administration has proposed policies to further limit H-1B visas. These include rejecting more petitions and rescinding work authorization for visa holders’ spouses. The proposals have been as widespread as the damage they cause. USCIS data suggests that recent policies have caused many international students to rethink coming to America. The number of graduate students from India in computer science and engineering has fallen by 21 percent over the past year.
Some immigration opponents argue that fewer skilled foreign workers means more jobs for U.S.-born professionals. However, this is not the case. The recent drop in H-1B visas did not result in more native employment. Rather, H-1B visa holders have positive effects for native workers. When the foreign STEM share of a city’s total employment increases by 1 percent, the wages of native college-educated workers grow by 7 to 8 percent.
The current administration claims that limiting H-1B visas will help put America first. It will not. Our economy requires exceptional talent to grow and thrive, regardless of that talent’s place of birth. Skilled immigrants boost the U.S. economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and improving productivity. Welcoming more of these individuals will not damage American businesses — it will help us compete in the global marketplace.