The Importance of Highly-Skilled Immigrants to the American Economy

Many research institutions, law firms, banks, and other industries in the United States are desperately in need of qualified and highly-skilled employees. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, and bankers, are critical positions in driving the United States economy and providing essential services to its citizens. Unfortunately, there is a void of capable candidates due of rising costs of secondary education and increasingly strict immigration laws causing these crucial positions to remain vacant. Without adequate public investment for native citizens to obtain the advanced degrees necessary to fill high-skilled positions, the United States must create policies that better utilize and encourage immigrants to participate in its economy.

According to a 2009 study by the National Science Foundation, 33 percent of science and engineering doctorates in the United States were foreign students on temporary visas. However, in order to remain in the United States, these graduates must first find an employer to sponsor an H-1B visa, and secondly be selected in the lottery. Although President-elect Trump has suggested he will further restrict the number of H-1B visas, current law allows for a maximum of 20,000 immigrants who have an advanced degree (a master’s degree or higher) and an additional 65,000 immigrants that have a bachelor’s degree or higher from a United States university to receive an H-1B visa. Despite this number of H-1B visas made available to immigrants each year, up to 90 percent of immigrants graduating with an advanced degree are required to leave the United States due to immigration laws. Without the ability to legally hire these immigrants which consist of a major proportion of all advanced degree graduates, many positions remain unfilled and impair the economy’s ability to grow. 

However, providing immigrants with advanced degrees with additional visas needed to remain in the United States is only the first step. We must also assist the immigrants already in the United States who are unable to reach their full potential. For example, in 2012-2014 over 1.8 million immigrants in the United States were college educated but were either unemployed or underemployed and working low-wage jobs. Although qualified for better jobs, immigrants often lack proper American professional etiquette and therefore may not have strong interviewing skills, resume writing skills, or networking skills. Further, immigrants are often unaware of the licenses or certificates necessary to convert their working and educational experiences from their home country into a comparable job in the United States. 

Luckily, there are organizations such as Upwardly Global, a nonprofit dedicated to helping skilled immigrants properly assimilate into the American professional environment by teaching the skills necessary to get hired. Through workshops, immigrants learn how to create a resume, write cover letters, network, and participate in mock interviews. Furthermore, Upwardly Global created professional licensing guides to assist immigrants who have had their careers interrupted after resettling in the United States which helps them navigate the steps necessary to earn professional licenses, credentials, and certificates needed to return to their profession.

The efforts of Upwardly Global have shown successful. In 2011, Upwardly Global assisted 280 clients in obtaining job offers, 71 percent of whom were previously unemployed and relying on their savings or government assistance. These clients collectively increased their families’ income that year by $8.4 million, positively impacting the economy simply by beginning to significantly participate in the tax base, a stark reversal for many who previously relied on government aid. More so, with higher incomes, these families are now able to spend more money directly supporting local businesses. Ultimately, the White House Council of Economic Advisors suggest that immigrants stimulate the United States GDP by $37 billion each year.

In order to reach their full potential, immigrants also need assistance with “coming out of the shadows” of poor or nonexistent credit. Referred to as “invisibles,” these immigrants have difficulty obtaining car loans, personal loans, and educational loans. Without these loans, even relicensing can be too expensive, creating an additional barrier for skilled immigrants trying to fully integrate into the United States. Solutions include participating in a lending circle* hosted by Mission Asset Fund who reports payments to credit bureaus or obtain a secured credit card which requires users to make an initial deposit with a bank to guarantee that any debt accumulated through the card can be paid.

A major boon to the American economy, immigrants and especially skilled immigrants, need to be better incentivized to reach their full potential. Through increasing the number of H-1B visas granted every year, assisting immigrants in translating their work experiences and education from their native country into an equitable job, and providing opportunities for invisibles to build their credit, the United States can raise its tax base and more efficiently develop its economy. 

*A lending circle is a short-term, interest-free loan among close associates who each decide to pay a specified amount each month into a pot which is then given to a different member each month until everyone has received the pot. Receiving the pot can help pay for emergencies, down payments, repairs, and other expenses which may not have been affordable otherwise.