Spotlight over concerns about China’s growing economic and technological competition has loomed for too long now. Last summer, lawmakers made significant strides to spur economic growth and competitiveness when they passed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act. They clocked out at the end of the session, however, failing to address the lack of workers America needs to effectively implement this bill. With no action taken this Congress, the issue continues to compound, and national security leaders are now calling on lawmakers to investigate immigration bottlenecks out of concerns about their impact on our country’s global competitiveness.
The quick and commonsense solution to deliver on the promises of CHIPS and address worries about our national security is to allow highly-skilled immigrants already here in the U.S. to stay and work in our technology and manufacturing industries. This sort of legal immigration reform would be a prescription to some of our country’s biggest headaches, such as China’s aggression against its competitors over workforce talent needed to boost the country’s economic competitiveness and America’s big tech companies’ monopolization of the limited share of highly skilled immigrants we’re allowing to stay stateside.
Considering the U.S. has been attracting and assimilating the world’s top talent for decades, we should feel obligated to ensure they are recruited to our workforce once educated at our universities. Over the past few decades, technology and manufacturing-driven businesses across the country have become driving forces in our economy. As they’ve grown, the demand for workers specializing in STEM has increased. Knowing this, more talent specializing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) would serve as a B-12 shot to our economy and global competitiveness.
Despite efforts to educate Americans in these fields, it’s no secret that we lack the workforce to meet the labor needs of the technology and national security sector without help from talent born outside our borders. However, foreign-born workers have stepped up to the plate and now makeup almost a quarter of all STEM workers in the U.S.
While this percentage of foreign-born talent working in STEM fields is impressive, you’d think it would be a much larger piece of the pie, considering almost half of all masters and doctorates awarded in STEM fields went to international students. This is largely because unaddressed bottlenecks in the current legal immigration system threaten to deport this talent, taking the value they could bring to our labor force with them. In fact, they are taking their American-developed expertise to other pro-immigration countries that are now capitalizing on talent.
As you’d expect, one of our biggest contenders for these workers is China, as they are ramping up their advanced technology sectors to compete directly with U.S. interests. In fact, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders’ fears of the U.S. fixing its legal immigration system should say all we need to know — they are exploiting loopholes we refuse to fix, and unless we start using green cards more aggressively alongside the diplomas of the highly qualified foreign-born graduate students, China will succeed in recruiting them and will gain a larger lead as our most serious technological and geopolitical competitor.
The monopolization of highly skilled workers educated in the U.S. doesn’t just originate abroad but is also an issue proliferated by tech giants. While we should support America’s big tech companies using their talent to advance cutting-edge ideas and technologies to bolster our own position in the tech race, their promise of sponsorships to immigrants has resulted in a brain drain from the small and medium size STEM-focused industries that can’t counter that offer. Currently, the pathway to staying in the U.S. says, “get a sponsor or get out.” Unless a foreign worker is able to find a sponsor for their H-1B visas quickly, they must leave the U.S., and with big tech companies able to get a majority of their visa sponsor applications approved, it’s only natural that they attract more graduate students. However, reforming the system would encourage these workers to disseminate to small to mid-sized companies in STEM fields instead. Our local technology and manufacturing businesses and startups would greatly benefit economically from their intelligence and backgrounds.
Democrats and Republicans have an opportunity with green card reform to kill two birds with one stone. Both of their bases support this measure, too. A 2023 Morning Consult survey found that 76 percent of voters supported highly skilled workers staying in the U.S., drawing 85 percent of Democrats’ support and 68 percent of Republicans.
With clear signs of bipartisan support, it should be a no-brainer to write into law that foreign workers with advanced STEM degrees applying for green cards are exempt from greed card limits and backlogs. This proposal would not degrade the necessary thorough processes needed to become a citizen but rather directly address bottlenecks in the immigration system and open the doors for talented international graduates to stay and work in the U.S.
If Congress can get one thing done this year, I think we’ve found something that should appease both sides with little room for argument.
Liam deClive-Lowe and Paolo Mastrangelo are the co-founders & co-presidents of American Policy Ventures, a new project which will actively work to support members of Congress working to find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s most pressing issues.
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