Skilled immigration is the backbone of many industries in the United States, and a recent Bipartisan Policy Center poll found that many Americans recognize its importance for economic growth. With Congress aiming to bolster national competitiveness, high skilled immigration can help improve U.S. security and strengthen the economy by driving technological and industrial innovation.
To expand on this topic further, BPC hosted an online event in April on high skilled immigration and its vital importance for national security and competitiveness. Ben Gitis, associate director of the Economic Policy Program, presented BPC poll results on Americans’ perceptions of high skilled immigration, which was followed by a panel discussion on the role of high skilled immigration in advancing U.S. competitiveness. The panelists included: Kai Hirabayashi, senior manager of public policy at Amazon; Divyansh Kaushik, associate director of the Federation of American Scientists; Margaret Stock, attorney at Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group; and Dane Stangler, director of strategic initiatives at BPC. Below are some takeaways from the discussion.
Immigration is vital for national security, especially considering recent military recruitment shortages.
While immigration isn’t typically linked to enhanced national security, Divyansh Kaushik set the tone for the discussion with a quote from Winston Churchill’s wartime military secretary: “The Allies won the war because our German scientists were better than their German scientists.” Skilled talent from across the globe has driven advancements in U.S. national security for decades. However, with green card backlogs making legal immigration to the U.S. more difficult in recent years, America’s weakened visa system is turning skilled talent away from the nation.
Margaret Stock focused on the needs of our military and shared that the armed forces have been facing recruitment challenges. While immigrants used to make up a significant proportion of the U.S. military, their participation in the armed forces is at historic lows. This is not because immigrants no longer want to serve, but because immigrants need a green card to enlist, and it is very difficult to obtain one.
Skilled immigration drives entrepreneurship and job creation.
The impact of the visa backlogs also extends to the nation’s economic strength and standing. Dane Stangler added that immigrants help bolster national competitiveness by playing a key role in expanding and diversifying the economy. He stated that immigrants create businesses and generate entrepreneurial activity at higher rates than native-born Americans. This trend is especially prevalent in the science and technology fields which are critical for innovation. Stangler also shared that immigrant business owners across all types and sizes of businesses create jobs at a higher rate than native workers, opening up more opportunities for workers in the U.S.
Barriers to extending visas and obtaining green cards restrict the contributions immigrants make to both entrepreneurship and business. Kai Hirabayashi shared his specific experience working with Amazon, a company that has many foreign-born employees who start with the company on temporary visas and are later sponsored for green cards. Hirabayashi stated that many of Amazon’s employees’ lives are often disrupted when their temporary visas expire, as they must wait in the long green card backlog while their status in this country remains uncertain.
Clearing green card backlogs should be a top priority.
While there are several barriers to using our immigration system to serve national security and competitiveness needs, Margaret Stock spoke to the difficulty of obtaining a green card as being one of the most prominent ones. The U.S. restricts the number of green cards it grants, instead creating over 80 different types of temporary visas that cause confusion and bureaucratic inefficiencies. Stock highlighted that the immigration system is now so complicated that many people cannot navigate it without the help of an immigration lawyer.
Stock stated her belief that there is no threat to the U.S. in granting more green cards, and that doing so would benefit the country. She spoke about the workforce shortages she observed in her hometown Anchorage, AK. Being a major hub for aircraft cargo, the city is facing challenges in finding enough native-born Americans to occupy vacant pilot positions, mechanic roles, and support staff placements. This trend is not unique to Alaska, but rather occurs across the country in various sectors, including health care and education. Granting more green cards would allow the U.S. to meet these workforce needs, Stock said, while also creating an avenue for more people to qualify for military service.
It is evident that skilled immigration bolsters U.S. competitiveness through multiple angles. It expands the nation’s job market, drives entrepreneurship, and strengthens national security. Clearing green card backlogs can help the U.S. draw the many benefits skilled immigrants bring to the nation, and it should be a top priority for Congress.
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