Labor interests in the United States have often been against immigration because of the American fear of losing jobs to immigrants who are willing to work for a smaller salary. The late 19th century saw the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, pushed by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL was also a big player in passing the Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924. However, times have changed, and the labor circumstances in the United States regarding the technology sector are drastically different from what the AFL and other labor interests have traditionally seen. Their attempt to further restrict the immigration of highly educated engineers and scientists, mostly from Asia and Europe, will have a tremendously negative impact on the tech industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.
The situation is further complicated when considering the American education system and its faults and failures. According to the National Math and Science Initiative (NMS), only 45% of high school students are prepared to take a math class in college and only 30% of students are ready to take a science class. This leads to a rate of 38% of college students that drop out of college because of the difficulty of STEM majors or that change their major. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 25th in math and 17th in science. This shows the decrease of both the total amount of the STEM workforce and the quality of their education. To exemplify this, the U.S. is projected to have a shortage of three million highly skilled workers by 2018. This debunks claims by the AFL that there are plenty of Americans who can fill job openings in the technology sector.
The only solution for most technology companies is to hire engineers and scientists from abroad in order to fill the gap between the demand for STEM employees and the supply of that specific labor sector in the United States. The problem with the current immigration system is that many highly skilled immigrant employees are unable to obtain long term or permanent visas. For example, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group issued a letter, signed by more than 50 tech company CEOs, saying that, “because our current immigration system is outdated and inefficient, many high-skilled immigrants who want to stay in America are forced to leave because they are unable to obtain permanent visas. Some do not bother to come in the first place. This is often due to visa shortages, long waits for green cards, and lack of mobility.”
Congress must raise the cap for H1-B temporary worker visas and speed the process for highly skilled immigrants to obtain permanent visas. Otherwise, the technology sector, which has helped push a 50% expansion of U.S. GDP in half a century, will be unable to expand as rapidly as it has the potential to do so.