Charlie Weaver: Immigration Reform: Global Competition Requires International Talent

See if you can guess what these people have in common:
– They create more than one-fourth of all new businesses.
– They created one-third of the venture-backed companies that went public between 2006 and 2012.
– They or their children founded an astounding 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Our underperforming economy could use a lot more of these job-creating wizards. Do you know who they are?


Immigration reform is a hotly contested issue, and the debate in Washington is centered on border security and citizenship options for undocumented individuals. But while those major issues must be addressed, a smaller reform — expanding H1-B visas for highly skilled individuals — would produce broad economic benefits.

In today’s hyper-competitive global economy, it is more important than ever to attract and retain talented people. Human capital advantages help companies and countries generate innovative ideas that lead to economic growth. Unfortunately, American immigration laws often bar the best and brightest international workers from joining U.S. corporations, costing all of us the economic benefits of their cutting-edge skills, expertise and ideas.

A particularly frustrating aspect of our dysfunctional immigration system is that our universities are educating thousands of talented international students who would be sought-after employees if they could remain in the United States after graduation. Many U.S. companies, particularly in the technology sector, have unfilled positions because there simply aren’t enough qualified candidates, especially those with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Those fields depend heavily on immigrants, who comprise 29 percent of scientists, 50 percent of Ph.D.s employed in math and computer science and 57 percent of Ph.D.s working in engineering. Unless our educational system starts producing substantially more American-born STEM graduates, we will need more bright immigrants to fill critical roles in ground-breaking, growth-driving sectors.

There are unfounded fears that U.S. citizens will lose jobs if H1-B visas are expanded. But because of the high cost and administrative burden of sponsoring H1-B applicants, U.S. companies would almost always prefer to hire U.S. workers; there just aren’t enough qualified American-born candidates in some fields. Rather than diluting the impact of America’s economic might, talented immigrants bring fresh ideas that produce economic growth that benefits everyone.

We can energize our economy by welcoming top talent from around the world. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analyzed the immigration bill that passed the Senate and determined that, if it became law, it would boost GDP by 5.4 percent over the next 20 years and decrease the federal deficit by almost $900 billion. A nation with an underperforming economy and staggering debt cannot afford to ignore those numbers.

Numerous business executives have shared with me their frustration with nonsensical immigration policies that are suppressing economic expansion. Even if comprehensive immigration reform is politically impossible, Congress has a great opportunity to produce economic growth if it acts now to expand H1-B visas. Contact your elected representatives and tell them to open our doors to the next generation of creative innovators.

This commentary originally appeared in the October 15, 2013 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.