Many high-tech supply chain managers looking for qualified talent to fill jobs across their supply chain network will be thrilled with recently introduced immigration legislation. New guidelines triple the cap on the number of skilled foreign workers allowed in under the H-1B visa program.
While some are happy with the announcement, however, my concern is that the proposed changes don't go far enough to shorten the length of time it will take for an H-1B visa holder to become a U.S. citizen, a process that currently can take more than ten years. That said, the bill will effectively increase U.S. dependence on skilled foreign workers tasked with applying their skills toward improving American innovation and job creation.
Dubbed the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2015, the bill is designed to attract qualified workers in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Introduced by Sen Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Jan. 13, the proposed bill raises the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000, and can go as high as 195,000 in years when the need arises.
If passed without changes it will be difficult to assess the full impact the legislation will have on wages, job opportunities for American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers, and other aspects of business operations. However, the bipartisan bill is touted by several lawmakers. These legislators describe it as a measure that will attract the best and brightest workers, who will then be able to contribute to American's economic development.
To help companies secure talent, the proposed legislation also includes measures that will uncap the existing U.S. advanced degree exemption, which currently is limited to 20,000 per year, assist families by allowing dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S., and another proposal makes it easier for H-1B visa workers to change jobs.
I would have liked to see the newly introduced legislation apply an expiration date on H-1B visas, which I think should last for three years. Before the visa expires an H-1B visa holder, who is authorized to work on a temporary basis, should be allowed to apply for a Green Card, which gives them authorization to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis and will speed up the day when these highly skilled workers can become U.S. citizens. Currently, H-1B visas can last as long as six years, and it is often the case that it can take more than a decade before these workers become U.S. citizens.
Over the years the H-1B visa has garnered strong support from leaders in the high-tech sector. Companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp., Apple Inc., and Microsoft Corp., have used the program to hire skilled workers from China, India and other nations as a way, they say, to boost their competitive advantage. For supply chain networks, STEM skills are needed to design and develop computer hardware and software, advance chip development, run computers on the factory floor, and formulate mathematical computations that go into forecasting, financial projections, and other tasks critical to supply chain planning. Furthermore, high-tech leaders say the program helps them meet the shortage of STEM skills in the U.S., the result of a failing American education system that hasn't churned out enough STEM educated workers to meet the demands of a job market that requires these skills.
According to projections from the federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there will be nine million STEM related job in the U.S. by 2022. A recent BLS report entitled STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow’s jobs, also shows that one million stem jobs will be created between 2012 to 2022.
However, an examination of BLS data related to STEM job creation in occupations more closely associated with the high-tech supply chain suggests that while some occupations will see a high demand for workers, job opportunities in other areas will grow at a slower pace.
For example, between 2012 and 2022, BLS projects there will be 218,500 job openings for application software developers, 209,600 for computer systems analysts, and 196,900 for computer user support specialists. During this decade there will also be 111,800 job openings for STEM workers looking for positions in sales, wholesale and manufacturing and technical and scientific products – many of these jobs are associated with high-tech supply chain planning across the sales and distribution network.
Other supply chain related occupations will see a lower level of job creation in the years ahead. Between 2012 and 2022 there will only be 44,100 jobs openings for electrical engineers, 43,500 openings for computer network architects and 24,100 job openings for computer hardware engineers.
With American jobs in mind, the IEEE USA lashed out at the proposed Immigration Innovation Act. In a statement the organization noted that currently more than half of the H-1B visas are used by outsourcing companies that replace American workers with low-wage foreign workers.
The statement went on to say:
The I-Squared bill would increase the number of temporary H-1B visas from 130,000 to eventually as high as 300,000 – if not more – because of various unnecessary and counterproductive proposed exemptions from the cap. Because H-1B visas last as long as six years, that represents at least an additional 1.8 million employees competing for jobs in a U.S. STEM workforce of about 5 million.
By contrast, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) issued a statement in support of the legislation. “The bipartisan 'I-Squared Act' is a long overdue step toward addressing our nation's shortage of high-skilled workers,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA.
“Immigrants are responsible for creating one-quarter of technology startups and jobs in the U.S. It is imperative that we encourage the best and brightest from around the world to stay here, instead of pushing them to the back of the line and incentivizing them to innovate and create jobs abroad,” Shapiro went on to say.
It's difficult to gauge how this piece of legislation, if passed, will affect the high-tech job market, but I think the bill should have measures to shorten the time for H-1B visa holders to apply for U.S. citizenship. We all know that many foreign students and H-1B workers gain their education and experience in America, but often return to their countries taking their knowledge and expertise elsewhere.
Whatever we can to do stop that trend is worth the effort because building human capital translates to strengthening economic development and social stability. My hope is that lawmakers can craft legislation that will create an environment where skilled
H-1B visa holders can work alongside their U.S. counterparts to advance technological innovation, increase job creation, and do all of this while shortening the time for these workers to become officially Americans.