Editor’s Note: Steve Rao is an At-Large city councilor and former Pro Tem Mayor of Morrisville, North Carolina, and a board member for America’s New Economy.
MORRISVILLE – Everyone knows the U.S. immigration system is seriously flawed, but many don’t realize how visa-related traffic jams are hurting North Carolina’s high-tech businesses and our innovation economy.
North Carolina’s tech industry supports, but these benefits depend on the employers ability to hire and retain the right people. Therefore, I call on our representatives in Congress to pass legislation that finally streamlines the archaic H-1B skilled worker visa system and makes it easier to obtain green cards and eventual citizenship for hardworking and very immigrant immigrants. educated.
of North Carolina companies operating in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have reported difficulty hiring in 2020, and say the skills they need are simply not present in the U.S. workforce. But while our state’s amazing universities attract large numbers of international students into STEM fields, it is incredibly difficult for American employers to hire them once they graduate.
That’s because the number of H-1B visas is kept at a ridiculously low level – the cap hasn’t changed since before the iPhone was created – and is issued to employers through a lottery. In other words, the authorized supply of workers falls far short of the demand. And, worse yet, we’ve turned the process of hiring skilled workers into a roll of the dice – an expensive and frustrating process that prevents many employers from hiring the skilled workers they need.
And the problems don’t end there. If a potential employee is successful in securing a visa, they often face enormous challenges as they seek more permanent status. The H-1B is designed to be a stepping stone to a green card for employees who play by the rules. But green cards are capped at 7% per country per year. This means that immigrants from populated countries like India end up having to wait decades before they can gain permanent status. In fact, the current wait for Indian green card applicants is around 150 years, which means that skilled workers can expect to spend their entire lives on a “temporary” visa.
It’s hard to overstate how damaging this is. At a timeand , according to the New American Economy, nearly 26% of the foreign-born population hold a graduate degree. Statewide, foreign workers make up 25% of our electronics workforce and 35% of our state’s software developers; overall, nearly one in five STEM employees in our state come from abroad. But many of these people lack security here. They are essential to our businesses and the state economy, and yet, with their temporary visas, it is difficult for them to travel, to change employers, and almost impossible to start a business.
We will lose these workers and not attract more if we do not make it easier to get highly skilled work visas and green cards. I often speak to skilled immigrants who tell me they love our state, but are considering returning to their home country or relocating to places like Canada or Australia, where they know they are would be welcomed with open arms.
I know firsthand how important it is to allow skilled workers to take root. My parents came from India so that my father could work as a rural surgeon. Because they were fortunate enough to build their lives here, thousands of patients received quality health care, and I grew up as a proud American, dedicated myself to serving our community and am become our state.‘first elected American of Asian origin.
Fortunately, a solution is at hand – if Congress decides to act. The Biden spending bill already includes a significant measure to recover up tothat have remained unused in other immigration categories, and redeploy them to help reduce the backlog of skilled workers from populated countries.
It’s a good first step, but lawmakers should go further and include measures to lift the H-1B quota. Our state’s vibrant tech industry is an economic powerhouse, but it can only stay strong and continue to create jobs for everyone if we enable businesses to hire the talent they need to thrive.