The electronics industry is being hamstrung by slow progress in high-skilled immigration reform. But help may be on the way.
One of the key factors driving growth and innovation in the U.S. semiconductor industry and across the broader tech sector is the availability of highly educated professionals – from both the U.S. and abroad – to create jobs and develop new technologies.
For too long, America’s outdated and ineffective immigration system has been a barrier to innovation, forcing highly educated immigrants to leave the U.S. because they are unable to obtain visas. This system undermines America’s economic strength and global competitiveness by preventing U.S. companies from recruiting and retaining the world's best innovators. SIA is working to ensure that policymakers in Washington act swiftly to fix this broken system.
America, brought to you by... America was built by immigrants and strengthened throughout its history by contributions from hard-working, talented people from around the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs have launched countless U.S. companies – including some SIA member companies – that have created millions of jobs and spurred economic growth. Unfortunately, America’s immigration system has failed to keep pace with our changing and flattening world, where innovation can occur anywhere and competition for top talent is increasingly fierce. As a result, America’s technology leadership is in danger of slipping away.
For example, thanks to America’s unsurpassed higher education system, many elite students from around the world come to the U.S. to obtain advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, only to be forced to return home after graduation. These master’s and Ph.D. candidates access and utilize research programs that receive billions of dollars annually in federal funds. Consequently, America loses many of these entrepreneurs – and the benefits of our own investment – to our competitors abroad.
SIA has long advocated for reforming the STEM visa system to create American jobs and boost U.S. competiveness. We support efforts to “staple” green cards to the diplomas of top graduate students born outside the U.S. who receive their advanced degree in a STEM discipline. Regrettably, in the past this common sense reform has become embroiled in the larger debate about comprehensive immigration reform, which has been deadlocked for years.
America’s immigration system has been a barrier to innovation, forcing highly educated immigrants to leave the U.S.
Bipartisan hope Fortunately, there are finally signs of light at the end of the tunnel, as efforts to reform America’s immigration system – including high-skilled immigration reform provisions – have gained traction recently in Washington. Several bipartisan plans for comprehensive immigration reform have been proposed in recent weeks, and the Senate is expected to begin consideration of immigration reform legislation in April. President Obama also has made enacting immigration reform a top priority, recently declaring that “the time has come” to move such legislation through Congress.
While reforming our high-skilled immigration system is critical to America’s strength, we also must not lose sight of developing top talent here at home. The semiconductor industry invests millions of dollars each year in K-12 STEM education and higher education research programs to help spur the next generation of America’s top scientific minds. Additionally, SIA supports using increased fees from new visas to better fund existing federal STEM programs to ensure that the United States has access to and trains the workforce of the future. These programs, along with high-skilled immigration reform, will help enable America’s pathway to continued technological and economic leadership.
The United States is still the world’s best place to create and invest. America has an outstanding talent pool, a dominant presence in nearly every technology sector, and one of the largest markets for cutting edge technology in the world. But today we face more and better competition abroad, and our position as the world’s technology leader is not a given. In order to protect our global leadership and remain at the forefront of innovation, Congress and the Administration must enact high-skilled immigration reform in order to welcome the best and brightest minds from around the world.
Brian Toohey is president and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the voice of the U.S. semiconductor industry in Washington.