Grant More H-1B Visas

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Every year, American universities grant advanced degrees to tens of thousands of bright foreign students. Upon graduation, unless they manage to procure an H-1B visa, these students typically return home and work for companies that compete with American employers.

It would be much smarter to welcome these workers onto the U.S. team than to force them to fight against us.

Today's annual cap on H-1B visas is 65,000; the visas last for three years, and there are some exemptions for workers with master's degrees and doctorates. In 2012, there were a total of 136,000 workers in the U.S. through the H-1B program. A bill before the Senate would raise the annual cap to 205,000, a modest recalibration and a smart move.

Some might point to the unemployment rate as evidence against admitting more immigrants. But in fact, a close look at the unemployment data suggests that the problem doesn't exist among the highly skilled. While workers with a high-school education and no more have an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, the rate is only 3.8 percent for college graduates, and it's even lower for those with advanced degrees or specialized "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills. For example, biomedical engineers have an unemployment rate of just 0.4 percent, suggesting that America needs far more of them. Skills shortages like this are common in some areas of the labor market.

Filling a skills gap does not harm anyone who lacks the skill in question. Indeed, filling a gap can be the key to making a viable work team. And even if we employ every qualified American, STEM fields will have at least 200,000 unfilled jobs for advanced-degree holders by 2018.

Laws that address skill shortages help us compete against other nations. They generate income and tax flows; master's degrees, for instance, generate 27 percent more income than bachelor's degrees. And they make much more sense than the status quo.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research.

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