America, the land of opportunity. Immigrants come because they see a chance to succeed. But, more often than not, US policy restricts their ability to excel.
In the 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) sought to rectify that by granting many undocumented immigrants legal status. Years later, we can see how much that helped. In 1990, soon after IRCA became a law, only 30% of 16-24 year old IRCA immigrants had high school diplomas. By 2006, that number increased to 58%. Giving legal status nearly doubled the number of educated immigrants, and, in turn, helped them live a better life.
But today, the focus is on money and innovation – especially within H-1B visa program. Each year, 65,000 well-educated foreign professionals are granted H-1B visas so that they can work, innovate and work together with Americans. Many of these professionals go on to contribute to patents, new inventions and much more.
In three states where immigration is a major issue, Arizona, California and Illinois, the average yearly wage of H-1B visa holders is well over $10,000 more than the median household income. But since we cap H-1B visas at 65,000, we’re limiting the success of the program drastically. Every year, the cap is reached within a matter of days, because the program is seen as a path to success in the US. In 2012, it took 71 days to reach the cap. In 2013, it only took 4 days to fill every spot. Well-educated people are very interested in coming to work in the United States, but arbitrary quotas are holding them back.
The lesson here might not be that obvious, but it doesn’t take much to see where American immigration laws need reform. IRCA allowed more immigrants legal status and over the course of 26 years, similar groups of legal immigrants saw great success and prosperity as a result. And the very successful H-1B visa program has only brought more money, innovation and jobs to the US.
A quick look at the numbers shows how important immigrants are to economic development. In Arizona and Illinois, 1 in 5 business owners are foreign born. And in California, 1 in 3 businesses are owned by immigrants. In each of these states, immigrant-owned businesses account for well over 15% of the state’s net income.
So does limiting innovation and job creators make much sense? Even simple legal status makes the lives of immigrants better – and the lives of US citizens better, as well.