The US strategy for attracting foreign talent is focused and objective. Unlike many nations in the developed world which have points-based immigration systems, the US relies on H-1B visas. Applicants rarely initiate this process. Instead, it is US firms who take the lead by sponsoring visas for the skilled foreign professionals they hire. The Silicon Valley has used the immigration system most effectively for decades. Today, according to some estimates, nearly 70% of tech employees in Silicon Valley are foreign-born. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which immigrants add value to the US tech industry.
Immigrants create jobs
Contrary to the prevalent rhetoric immigrants have added millions of jobs to the US economy. More than half of all US tech firms which are valued over a billion dollars today were founded by immigrants. A quarter of US tech startups and more than 40% of all Silicon Valley startups had at least one immigrant co-founder. These include household names such as Google, Sun, and Tesla. Tech giants including GE, Cisco, Qualcomm and others owe most of their patents to the contributions of immigrants. These patents have the potential to create new industry verticals and thousands of additional jobs. Many of the immigrant-founded US tech firms are growing so rapidly that they more than doubled their employee headcounts within the past two years. Without immigrant entrepreneurs the US economy would be riddled with high unemployment.
Immigrants make businesses successful
Many Silicon Valley CEOs vocally assert that a diverse workforce is their greatest strength. Research has repeatedly shown that diversity in teams drives people to be more creative, collaborative and productive. Diversity enables better considered and more holistic decisions. Many Silicon Valley boardrooms are striving to become increasingly diverse with regards to age, ethnicity, gender and nationality. Diversity helps corporate boards to have better oversight and longer term perspectives. Diversity invariably helps organizations gain an edge over competition, especially in international markets.
Global brands need global teams
Technology products and services have global reach and appeal. Organizations throughout the world use Cisco networking devices in their offices. Microsoft commands more than 70% of the desktop computing market worldwide. It provides support for its operating systems in 108 languages. These accomplishments would be impossible without an ability to attract, groom, nurture and retain foreign professionals. Silicon Valley CEOs understand very well that building strong global brands takes global teams, which are sourced from a global talent pool.
Restrictive immigration policies hurt Silicon Valley
The number of open job positions for software engineers has exceeded the number of available professionals almost continuously for more than a decade. Despite offers of higher salaries and lucrative incentives Silicon Valley has been struggling to meet its demand for skilled engineers. The shortage of tech professionals is projected to touch two million within two years. In this climate of skill shortage the US administration is making immigration policies even more restrictive. This is counterproductive and damaging for industry. Currently H-1B visas are being subjected to greater scrutiny, which is causing processing delays. The administration is demanding more supporting documentation than before, and generally making visas harder to get. Visas are being refused at a higher rate than at any time in recent history. There is also a move to restrict the total number of visas to be given out.
These changes have made it more time-consuming, difficult and expensive for Silicon Valley companies to acquire vital talent. Tech firms need foreign professionals. Vast numbers of immigrants working in the Silicon Valley add substantive value to the US economy every day. They also regularly send money to India, China and other countries where they come from, to support their families back home. It is important for the administration to understand this symbiotic relationship. Tighter immigration controls are constricting the US tech industry. Instead the administration must relax skilled immigration to facilitate the import of necessary human resources.