Free the H-1Bs, Free the Economy

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A little sanity in an insane situation . . .

This is a guest post by Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Executive in Residence at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa.

I have a suggestion for our President on how to boost economic growth without spending a penny: Free the H-1B’s.

More than a million doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers, and other skilled workers and their families in the U.S. are stuck in “immigration limbo.” They entered the country legally and have contributed disproportionately to our nation’s competitiveness. They paid our high taxes and have been model citizens. All they want to do is to share the American dream and help us grow our economy.

They could be starting companies, buying houses, building community centers, and splurging like Americans. But because we don’t have enough permanent-resident visas (green cards) for them, they’re stuck in the same old jobs they had maybe a decade ago when they entered this country. They are getting really frustrated and many are returning to their home countries to become unwilling competitors. And they are taking our economic recovery with them.

Xenophobes will claim that immigrants take jobs away and blame them for everything that is wrong in their lives and in America. But as TechCrunchwrote last week, skilled immigrants create more jobs than they take away. That is a fact. My research team documented that one quarter of all technology and engineering startups nationwide from 1995 to 2005 were started by immigrants. In Boston, it was 31%, in New York, 44%, and in Silicon Valley an astonishing 52%. In 2005, these immigrant founded companies employed 450,000 workers. Add it up. That’s far more than all the tech workers we gave green cards to in that period.

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It’s not only jobs that they’ve created. In 2006, more than 25% of U.S. global patents had authors who were born abroad — and this doesn’t even count people like me, who came here, became citizens, and then filed multiple patents. Of Qualcomm’s global patents, 72% had foreign-born authors, as did 65% of Merck’s, 64% of GE’s, and 60% of Cisco’s. I’m not talking about silly patents filed with the U.S. Patent Office here, I’m talking about WIPO PCT  applications — the patents that help our companies compete globally.

Read more . . .

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