On Oct. 23, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released proposed revisions to the H-1B visa program to “modernize and improve the efficiency of the H-1B program, add benefits and flexibilities and improve integrity measures.”
This is good news, but these changes don’t address the bigger problem, which is that the number of H-1B visas issued is woefully inadequate to support America’s economic future and the financial health of our colleges and universities.
The U.S. economy’s unrivaled strength is fueled by the constant influx of skilled foreign workers from its top-notch colleges and universities. New companies, industries and innovations have sprung from this flow of talent from other countries. However, this vital lifeline is facing a dire threat due to outdated H-1B work visa limitations coupled with anti-immigration sentiment that gets nastier with each new global conflict.
The H-1B visa was originally designed in 1990 to address the nation’s need for skilled workers. At the time, Congress allowed 65,000 of these temporary work visas to be issued a year. Applicants needed to have graduated from an accredited college or university and have a job offer from a U.S. company or non-profit organization.
However, the H-1B cap has failed to keep pace with the exponential growth of the U.S. economy, leaving skilled workers in short supply. Specifically, while the U.S. economy grew nearly five-fold from $5.5 trillion in 1990 to $26.85 trillion in 2023, the number of H-1B visas has increased only by 20,000 to 85,000.
Despite the proposed amendments, our H-1B program endangers America’s position as the number one economy in the world in several ways.
First, the American economy is suffering from a shortage of skilled workers in some industries with unemployment at 3.9 percent. This labor shortage is hurting businesses and restricting U.S. economic growth. Overall, there are 9.6 million job openings. Even if every unemployed U.S. citizen is hired, there would still be approximately 3 million unfilled unfilled positions. Skilled workers are in high demand, as shown by more than 60 percent of unfilled job openings in professional and business services according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Countries that do not have enough workers find their economies quickly falling behind. One example is Japan, where the country’s low birthrate and high longevity have led to an aging population and serious employment problems, which limit growth and the necessary income tax revenues to support its infrastructure.
This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at The Hill on Nov. 21, 2023. Republished with permission.
About the Authors:
Marcela Miguel Berland is the founder and president of Latin Insights and an adjunct professor at New York University.
Matthew Lee Sawyer is the founder of USAccelerator.biz and an adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University. He is the author of the 2022 book, “Make It In America; How International Companies and Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter and Scale in U.S. Markets.”