US Should Not Shut its Doors on Talented Immigrants

Every day I am reminded that access to a range of talented technical workers is the life blood of Cadenza and America’s technology startups.    Without a pool of workers trained in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Cadenza and other innovators will be unable to grow and prosper.

That is why I support expansion and reform of the current US H-1B visa program toward a more merit, point-based system as is used in Canada and Australia and away from a pure lottery.   According to CNN, under the Canadian system, applicants earn points based on items including their level of education, age, work experience, ability to speak English (and, in Canada, French) and whether they have a job waiting for them.

The current H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher.    There is currently an annual cap of 85,000 H-1B visas which are awarded purely by lottery once an applicant meets the minimum requirements.   That lottery has been filled in less than a week each of the past few years, and, much to my surprise, Indian outsourcing firms got nearly 70% of all H-1B visas issued in 2015.

The Economist magazine found that between 2012 and 2015 the three biggest Indian outsourcing firms—TCS, Wipro and Infosys—submitted over 150,000 visa applications for positions that paid a median salary of $69,500. In contrast, America’s five biggest tech firms—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft—submitted just 31,000 applications, and proposed to pay their workers a median salary of $117,000.   Cadenza Innovation filed for one H-1B visa, was not selected, and is still looking to fill this position.

Recently a bi-partisan group of 1,500 economists sent a letter to US congressional leadership emphasizing the fundamental reality I see every day:  “Immigration brings diverse skillsets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow and increase the productivity of American workers.”   The economists highlighted the critical point that there is “a broad consensus that immigration is one of America’s significant competitive advantages in the global economy.”

Currently companies such as Cadenza are starved for talented STEM trained workers and dependent on the whim of an expensive lottery where the odds are stacked against true innovators.  That is not right.