This summer, after years of hard work, thousands of college graduates will be entering the workforce. With nearly two open jobs for every American looking for work, you might think this influx of talent would be good news for the economy. But this won’t solve the workforce crisis our country is facing. Even with new graduates starting their careers, we still don’t have enough workers to fill the vacancies that exist right now, especially in STEM fields.
Investing in STEM education from an early age is needed to help America compete globally. Right now, only 51 percent of U.S. high schools offer foundational computer science courses, with only 4.7 percent of students enrolled. While every student in this country should be learning computer science from an early age, it will take years before they enter the workforce. Vacancies exist now. We can help businesses grow and thrive by making it easier for the world’s best and brightest to stay in America.
International students come to the U.S. and study at American colleges and universities for a world-class education. Many graduate with STEM degrees and advanced tech skills and look to enter the U.S. workforce. However, instead of putting their talents to work for the American economy, many are forced to leave because of our outdated immigration system. That’s leading to hundreds of thousands of STEM jobs remaining unfilled as qualified applicants go elsewhere, not because they want to, but because they have to. They’re setting down roots in other countries, possibly founding the next great startup outside the U.S.
Retaining the global talent that American colleges and universities produce is critical to our economic success. According to FWD.us, more than 100,000 international graduates of U.S. colleges and universities each year want to stay and work for the long term in the U.S. Unfortunately, our immigration policies have largely remained unchanged since 1986, leaving companies and recent grads to navigate a broken and burdensome process.
Clearly, the status quo is not working, and we need a fresh approach toward attracting and retaining the world’s best and brightest – it’s critical to helping our economy thrive. If left unaddressed, the talent shortage of workers with a post-secondary degree in the U.S. will result in more than nine million job vacancies and $1.2 trillion in lost production over the next decade, according to TechNet’s recent report highlighting the skills gap that exists in this country.
Nearly half of all small businesses say they can’t fill openings, and 64 percent of employers report a skills gap at their company. At the same time, the number of applicants for H1-B visas neared 500,000 this year, far greater than the annual 85,000 H-1B visa cap. More than 150,000 applications came from individuals with a Master’s degree or above from a U.S. university. This is forcing highly-skilled graduates and potential tech industry workers and entrepreneurs, and their families, to go elsewhere – hurting our economy, innovation, and global competitiveness.
Throughout our history, immigrant innovators, entrepreneurs, and workers have come to the U.S., started businesses, created jobs, fueled innovation, and grown our economy. Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies have been founded or co-founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. They have also founded 55 percent of American startups valued at $1 billion or more.
Twenty-five of our global competitors, including Canada, Germany, and Great Britain, have startup visas that attract entrepreneurs to invest capital and create jobs. But the United States does not. That must change.
Congress is currently reconciling the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) that passed the U.S. Senate and the COMPETES Act that passed the House of Representatives. Both USICA and the COMPETES Act include the creation of Postsecondary STEM Pathway Grants and programs to increase access to computer science education, while provisions in the COMPETES Act would create a U.S. startup visa and exempt Ph.D. and Master’s degree holders in STEM fields from green card caps. These provisions will help fill current vacancies as well as future ones, attract investment, spur innovation, and create new opportunities for American workers and students.
The need to address America’s skills gap is urgent. Computer and information technology openings are projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sixteen percent of all U.S. STEM field graduates are foreign-born. Ensuring they’re able to stay and work in this country could reduce STEM-related talent shortages by about 25 percent and add up to $233 billion to the U.S. economy this decade.
Congress must act. Proposals to increase high-skilled immigration have already garnered widespread support from both the business community and the American public. For too long, Congressional inaction on immigration reform has stifled innovation and stunted job growth.
Without taking action to fix our outdated immigration system, America’s tech and science superiority will continue to decline. We must pass a bipartisan innovation and competition package, reclaim our position as the global leader in innovation, and give businesses the immediate relief they need to fill openings with the world’s best talent to grow our economy.