July 10, 2019

New Op-ed: Why merit matters in immigration

Why Merit Matters In Immigration

Originally published by Washington Times

At the recent Democratic presidential debate, it was interesting to see that all Democratic candidates raised their hands in favor of providing free health insurance to 11 million illegal immigrants. The Democrats talk about illegal immigration, while ignoring common sense policy solutions to increase the number of temporary high-skilled and educated immigrant workers.

The United States currently has a record 6.6 million job openings. The U.S. Department of Labor has recently released a report detailing that there are now more job openings than there are unemployed Americans. Many of these jobs require a skill set, training or specialty that U.S. employers are currently unable to fill with American workers. At the same time, current immigration policies make it difficult to fill them with candidates from outside the United States.

As the president recently noted, “companies are moving offices to other countries because our immigration rules prevent them from retaining highly skilled” talent. In a competitive global economy, the United States needs to attract and retain the best and brightest. In many cases, candidates who have earned a master’s degree or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) at American universities are forced to leave the country after completing their degree.

To address the “skills gap” in the long term, President Trump signed an executive order on workforce development that established the National Council for the American Worker that will focus on ways to modernize our nation’s education and job training system.

In the short term though, the United States needs temporary high-skilled workers who utilize H-1B visas to fill the current need and keep our economy moving forward. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack and shortage of these high-skilled visas. While U.S. employers requested more than 300,000 H-1B visas to fill vacant positions, there were just short of 65,000 issued in 2018.

According to the National Foundation for American Policy, U.S. companies increase their employment by five workers for every H-1B visa position requested. The difference between the number of H-1B visas requested by U.S. employers and the actual number that were issued equates to a potential loss of over 1 million new U.S. jobs. Beyond the additional jobs created, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, noted in a research paper for the American Enterprise Institute that the United States could add half a percentage point to economic growth by doubling the number of high-skilled immigrants it lets into the country.

High-skilled immigration is one of our best weapons to keep the American economy strong and ensure we maintain our economy’s superiority over countries like China. Canada, our neighbor to the north, has strategically launched a program called Global Skills Strategy to attract top global talent with the STEM skills needs to promote their long-term economic plan.

The United States is home to the world’s greatest institutions of higher learning. Our immigration policies should encourage the doctors, engineers, researchers, scientists and other highly-educated graduates of our institutions from other countries to remain and flourish here in the United States rather than be forced to take what they have learned here and excel elsewhere.

While some worry that the H-1B visa program — which allows U.S. employers to sponsor temporary high-skilled workers, is a negative for the U.S. economy, the data tells a different story. The vast majority of these high-skilled immigrants come to United States when they are young — between the ages of 16 and 35. Many of them are educated in Germany, Ireland, Norway, Great Britain, and then the United States gets the benefits of their labor and the public return on their education.

Currently, only 12 percent of legal immigrants are selected based on skill or based on merit. In countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand — that number is closer to 60 percent, and even 70 percent and 75 percent. We need to increase the proportion of highly-skilled immigration and a merit-based immigration system makes sense. Under a merit-based system, you get more points for having a valuable skill, an offer of employment, an advanced education, or a plan to create jobs.

America’s last major overhaul of our legal admissions policy was 54 years ago. The president has laid out a commonsense plan to reform our outdated immigration system and encourage high-skilled immigration, which will help keep the American economy moving forward.

• Sean Spicer served as the 28th White House press secretary and communications director for President Donald J. Trump.